For nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a creek in Anniston, Ala., and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. Thousands of pages of Monsanto documents ó many emblazoned with warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" ó show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew rather than tell the trusting folks of Anniston that the streams where their children swam and the dirt in their gardens had become thoroughly, dangerously polluted.
Michael Grunwald wrote in the Jan. 1 Washington Post that in 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged in that creek turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling water. They told no one. In 1969, they found fish in another creek with 7,500 times the legal PCB levels. They decided "there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges." In 1975, a company study found that PCBs caused tumors in rats. They ordered its conclusion changed from "slightly tumorigenic" to "does not appear to be carcinogenic."
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered General Electric Co. to spend $460 million to dredge PCBs it had dumped into the Hudson River in the past, perhaps the Bush administration's boldest environmental action to date. The decision was bitterly opposed by the company, but hailed by national conservation groups and many prominent and prosperous residents of the Hudson River Valley.
In Anniston, far from the national spotlight, the sins of the past are being addressed in a very different way, Grunwald wrote. Monsanto and its corporate successors have avoided a regulatory crackdown, spending just $40 million on cleanup efforts so far. But they have spent $80 million more on legal settlements, and another lawsuit by 3,600 plaintiffs ó one of every nine city residents ó was set to get underway as this went to press. The Anniston lawsuits have uncovered a voluminous paper trail, revealing an unusually detailed story of secret corporate machinations in the era before strict environmental regulations and right-to-know laws. The documents ó obtained by the Post from plaintiffs' attorneys and the Environmental Working Group, a chemical industry watchdog ó date as far back as the 1930s, but they expose actions with consequences that are still unfolding today. For more information see the Environmental Working Group web site at (www.ewg.org).
The St. Louis Post Dispatch, commenting on the Washington Post story, noted that hometown corporation "Monsanto is now focused solely on agriculture, declaring a new pledge of openness and accountability. It disclaims any connection to current events in Anniston." [The chemical division was spun off as Solutia Inc. in 1997.] But the Post Dispatch editorialized that the story "provides a chilling glimpse of the dark side of corporate culture," noting that the executives responsible for the coverup are either dead, retired, moved on or are unknown. "While a citizen who throws trash out a car window might be fined hundreds of dollars, corporate directors are rarely, if ever, held personally responsible for actions many times more harmful. It is this systemic failing that needs to be addressed ó a tall order when big corporations are largely funding the campaigns of those who make ó and change ó laws.
"Corporations must be pushed ó by citizens, laws or both ó to hold themselves accountable to stakeholders, to communities, employees, customers and greater society ó as well as stockholders."
GORE VS. DASCHLE IN 2004? Al Gore has taken a break from supporting George W. Bush to let it be known to Washington insiders that he plans to run for president again, but he may have competition from Tom Daschle. Jeffrey H. Birnbaum writes at Fortune.com that Daschle's economic speech on Jan. 4 in Washington was the opening salvo in his bid for the nomination. "The South Dakotan had hesitated before, but he apparently has the bug now. He will first have to carry his fellow Democratic Senator from South Dakota, Tim Johnson, to victory in 2002, and thus secure his seat as majority (as opposed to minority) leader in the Senate. But if he does that, he'll probably go for the gold in 2004." TPP notes that Daschle's ambition gives Republicans another reason to concentrate fire on the soft-spoken South Dakotan. Birnbaum added, "I still think Gore might decide to beg off, and Daschle could drop out, leaving [Massachusetts Sen. John] Kerry as most-likely-to-succeed. But until then, it's (quietly at least) a Gore-Daschle battle."
BUSH EYES BREAKS FOR POLLUTERS. The Bush administration plans to announce rule changes that would weaken the Clean Air Act and give breaks to polluting industry, but Elizabeth Shogren wrote in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 4 that White House officials are concerned that the president will take another beating in public opinion similar to the one he took last year for initially rejecting a Clinton administration plan to reduce arsenic in drinking water and reversing a campaign pledge to regulate greenhouse gas-producing carbon dioxide. Utilities, manufacturers, chemical companies and other major polluters have pushed the administration for regulatory changes that would let them expand or renovate their plants without installing new pollution-control equipment. In a letter, Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) told White House officials they should make regulatory relief contingent on industry's support for tough pollution caps. Under consideration are exemptions that would let plants make changes without installing new pollution control devices if the cost of the renovations is less than a specified amount; if emissions from the whole plant remain below a specified cap, which could be the plant's highest emission level over the last 10 years; and for up to 15 years after installing state-of-the-art pollution-control devices.
ENRON'S SIX-RING CIRCUS. Enron's lawyer has a problem with the newest government investigation of the company's business practices, Dan Ackman notes Jan. 3 at Forbes.com. "I don't question the legitimacy of an inquiry [into Enron's failure], but it's not a measured approach to have a half-dozen different committees doing this at the same time," Robert Bennett told the Washington Post. "It can lead to a circus atmosphere and a lot of wasted time and effort." But Ackman noted that the cause of the circus is Enron, "whose notoriously convoluted and perhaps ultimately false reporting led to its collapse and the now overlapping investigations. Enron spent years sowing confusion; now it may take nearly as long to reap clarity." The Senate Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), announced Jan. 2 that it will issue subpoenas for documents from Enron's board of directors, senior managers and its auditing firm. The committee will hold a hearing on Jan. 24 into why government regulators failed to see the "red flags'' at Enron, and protect investors and the company's employees who have lost hundreds of millions of dollars as Enron stock plummeted. Lieberman's committee joins investigators from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, subcommittees of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee, who have already held hearings. Already on the case, Ackman noted, are lawyers from the Securities and Exchange Commission, "and no doubt criminal investigators from the Justice Department; to say nothing of private lawyers representing Enron's shareholders, employees, its one-time merger partner Dynegy, and its many creditors." At least Bennett will profit from the extravagance, "as will hundreds of other attorneys in D.C. and Houston, for whom the huge energy trader's demise will be a full-employment act. So much of the waste could be reduced, even eliminated, if Enron simply opened its files and permitted its executives to explain its actions and translate its financial reports. They could start by explaining Enron's use of partnerships to get debt off its balance sheet. For now, though, Chairman Kenneth Lay, former CEO Jeffrey Skilling, former CFO Andrew Fastow have all ëlawyered up,' as they say on NYPD Blue."
EPA MOVES TO MUZZLE CRITIC. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman recently announced she'll take the ombudsman's office from the EPA's solid waste division, where it had considerable autonomy to review actions under the Superfund program and states management of hazardous waste sites, and move it into the inspector general's program. The inspector general then will decide the ombudsman's budget, staff and even what investigations the ombudsman can undertake. The ombudsman's office has been a thorn in EPA's side, the Denver Post noted in a Jan. 3 editorial, because it questioned EPA's decisions and often embarrassed the agency. Three years ago, the ombudsman's inquiry prompted EPA to overturn a decision and agree to remove radioactive wastes from central Denver. The ombudsman's office now has about two dozen other inquiries under way, from Florida to Oregon. The Post noted that a year ago, in the Clinton administration's final days, the outgoing solid waste division chief tried to gut the ombudsman's office by transferring its lone investigator. Now, the editorial stated, Whitman is breaking a promise to US Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., that the ombudsman would retain significant independence. So Allard has introduced a bill, S. 606, giving the ombudsman's office full statutory authority.
LIBRARIANS HELP MOORE WIN ONE. Michael Moore's new book, Stupid White Men and Other Excuses for the State of the Nation, which HarperCollins threatened to pulp because it pointedly criticizes George W. Bush [see Dispatches, 1/1-15/02 PP], will be released after librarians raised a ruckus, Kera Bolonik wrote for Salon.com Jan. 7. Moore's book, originally due in stores on Oct. 2, was put on hold after Sept. 11. Moore said he had agreed to a request to include new material to address recent events, and change the title and cover art, but he balked when HarperCollins further asked him to rewrite up to 50% of the book and contribute $100,000 from his royalties to pay half the cost of destroying the old copies and producing the new edition. Moore uncharacteristically worked quietly for the book's release, but he discussed his struggle with a group of 100 at a New Jersey Citizen's Action private event on Dec. 1. One in the crowd, Ann Sparanese, a librarian at Englewood Library in New Jersey, posted a message on several American Library Association listserves alerting fellow librarians of the threat to the book. Within days of the posting, a HarperCollins editor told Moore that they were receiving a lot of e-mail from angry librarians about Stupid White Men. HarperCollins announced Dec. 18 it would publish Stupid White Men as is in early March 2002. Moore hadn't met Sparanese at the Citizen's Action event, but he partly attributes the publisher's shift in stance to her mobilization of other librarians. "Librarians see themselves as the guardians of the First Amendment," says Moore. "You got a thousand Mother Joneses at the barricades! I love the librarians, and I am grateful for them!"
EVIDENCE POINTS TO HOME-GROWN ANTHRAX TERROR. Anthrax spores enclosed in envelopes mailed to two leading Senate Democrats in October are biologically identical to bacteria secretly manufactured at a US germ warfare facility during the last decade, according to press reports. The army biological and chemical warfare unit at the Dugway Proving Ground, about 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, may be the original source of the finely milled weapons-grade anthrax sent to senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Scientists at Dugway grew and processed spores deriving from the Ames strain, the strain that appeared in all the letters sent to media outlets and Congress and resulted in five deaths, although they sent the spores to other biowarfare labs.
Until the Baltimore Sun revealed the secret army program Dec. 12, US officials, including those investigating the anthrax attacks, had maintained that the American military stopped producing germ warfare materials in 1969 when President Nixon ordered the US offensive biowarfare program closed, before the signing of an international treaty in 1972 banning the development of such weapons. Pentagon spokesmen now claim that the development of weapons-grade anthrax was legal under the treaty because the production of small quantities is permitted for "peaceful and protective" purposes, i.e., to prepare countermeasures to a germ warfare attack. Anthrax spores were sometimes sent to another germ warfare unit at Fort Detrick, Md., 30 miles from Washington, DC., and to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington.
Even before the Sun confirmed that the Dugway lab had recently produced weapons-grade anthrax, a leading specialist on the subject had concluded that a US government facility was the most likely source of the anthrax used in the recent mailings. In an analysis released Dec. 10 by the Federation of American Scientists' Working Group on Biological Weapons, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg declared, "The anthrax in the letters was probably made and weaponized in a US government or contractor lab. It might have been made recently by the perpetrator on his own, or made as part of the US biodefense program; or it may be a remnant of the US biological weapons program before Nixon terminated the program in 1969."
Another expert in the field, Richard Spertzel, a former army colonel who directed the UN biological weapons inspection team in Iraq, also rejected the notion that a disaffected individual like the Unabomber could have produced the anthrax letters. In testimony to the House Committee on International Relations Dec. 5, Spertzel declared, "The quality of the product contained in the letter to Senator Daschle was better than that found in the Soviet, US or Iraqi program, certainly in terms of the purity and concentration of spore particles."
Patrick Martin of the World Socialist Website (wsw.org) noted that in response to the Baltimore Sun article, a spokesman for the Dugway Proving Ground confirmed that the facility had produced dry anthrax powder similar to that found in the Daschle and Leahy letters, but claimed that it was "well protected" and entirely accounted for. The statement was the first admission by the US government that it has produced useable germ warfare material since the program for offensive biological weapons was terminated in 1969. The Washington Post Dec. 16 said experts found genetic studies indicated that the anthrax spores mailed to Capitol Hill were identical to stocks of the deadly bacteria maintained by the US Army since 1980. At least one of the scientists told the Post that "the original source" of the anthrax in the Daschle and Leahy letters "had to have been [Fort Detrick]." The Post added that the FBI had begun interviewing CIA officials about the agency's own germ warfare program, which made use of the Ames strain.
TRUMPED UP TERROR NUMBERS. An investigation by the Miami Herald found that the US Department of Justice routinely overstates the number of terrorist arrests and convictions it makes every year. It apparently cooks the numbers for Congress, as a way to justify its annual $22-billion budget of which counterterrorism is a part, the St. Petersburg Times commented in a Jan. 2 editorial. In DOJ's most recent annual report, released in May, Justice claims there were 236 terrorism convictions in the fiscal year ending September 2000. But the department refused to back up that number or disclose the details of those convictions. Herald reporters reviewed dozens of so-called terrorism cases over a five-year period, examining files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The reporters found that numerous convictions labeled as terrorism were ordinary crimes. For example, the department listed as a case of domestic terrorism, the conviction of a man from Arizona who got drunk while returning from Shanghai. The judge in the case called it a case of a man "being an annoyance beyond belief," but not terrorism. Other "terrorists" included an Ecuadorian man who tried smuggling 12 guns from Miami to his home country for the purpose of reselling them. And 7 Chinese sailors were counted as terrorists after they commandeered a boat in order to sail it into US territorial waters to ask for political asylum. "Disturbingly, the federal prosecutor office in San Francisco was the office that listed the most cases of domestic terrorism over the past 3 years. For much of that time, Robert Mueller, now director of the FBI, was at its helm," the Times noted.
"Especially now, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Congress and the public have a right to expect that any reports to come out of the department provide a full and accurate accounting of the level of domestic terror activities in the United States," the Times editorialized. "If prosecutions of al-Qaeda members are combined with those of drunken airline passengers, it will be impossible to gauge which offenses constitute real terrorism and which have been listed as such merely to pad the numbers.
"The findings of the Herald investigation are serious enough to justify a congressional inquiry. The department's terrorism numbers are generated as part of the auditing process that evaluates the level of performance for each of the 94 federal prosecutor's offices. It appears Congress is being misled as to what our tax money is actually buying."
FEDEX FIRES ARMY RESERVIST. Gene Henderson, 37, of Kent, Wash., is losing his livelihood ó a Federal Express delivery route he bought four years ago for $25,000 ó because he has been called to serve his country full time for the next year, Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Candy Hatcher wrote Jan. 4. Henderson, a military-intelligence analyst, spent four years in the Army on active duty before becoming a reservist more than 12 years ago. In November 1997, he bought his FedEx delivery truck and the right to deliver in South King County, but a provision in his contract noted that if he couldn't serve his route, FedEx Ground would give it to someone else. The day after Christmas, the Army told Henderson he was being called for active duty for as long as a year. If Henderson were a direct employee of FedEx ó or any other company ó a federal law would protect his job and right of reinstatement while he served in the Army. But as one of 8,000 independent contractors who work for FedEx, he was told his route would be divvied up among bordering contractors "with no guarantee that I would get it back or that I would even have a position at all."
RUSH REBUFFED. Right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh recently got blasted by listeners after attacking farm bill subsidies and calling on the White House to veto the farm bill if it didn't cut agricultural spending. Scotty Johnson of the National Rural Community Outreach Campaign noted that the nationally syndicated blowhard in late December started his spiel by sharing with listeners reports by the Environmental Working Group which detail how farm payments are tilted towards the largest producers. They quoted USDA statistics showing the top 10% of US farms received 67% of all farm payments, some of these in the millions, while the bottom 80% received an annual average of $5,830 each. However, before Limbaugh and crew could warm to their usual rant about "Senate Majority Leader Daschle," and all the "leftist, liberal government pork-and-spending" their phone lines lit up with calls from usually agreeable "right leaning" rural listeners chiding them for their insensitivity to farmers and the rural plight. A closer analysis shows the Limbaugh team not only misjudged their audience, they also didn't do their homework. The Republican House farm bill spends the same amount over ten years with status quo subsidies directing the biggest payments towards the largest producers.
BUSH'S STEALTHY AGENDA. Two days after Christmas, with President Bush in Texas and most of official Washington on vacation, the White House announced the rejection of regulations that would have barred companies that repeatedly violate environmental and workplace standards from receiving government contracts, David Broder noted in the Jan. 2 Washington Post. Few in the press noticed, and those stories were buried on inside pages. But Broder noted that in one recent year, the federal government had awarded $38 billion in contracts to at least 261 corporations operating unsafe or unhealthy work sites. Rules to stop that were issued at the end of the Clinton administration, after being published in draft form 18 months earlier. But business opposed them, and Bush suspended them barely two months after he took office.
REHNQUIST IMPATIENT. Having installed George W. Bush in the White House, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist on Dec. 31 called for swift action by the Senate on Bush's judicial nominations. The Jan. 1 Washington Post noted that the Democratic-controlled Senate had confirmed only 28 federal judges as of Dec. 20, when it adjourned. There are 23 nominations to the courts of appeals and 14 nominations to the district courts awaiting action. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) defended the Senate record, noting that since Democrats took control June 6, "we have confirmed more judicial nominations than were confirmed in the entire first years of each of the last two presidents. Most of these nominees were conservative Republicans, and virtually all were approved unanimously ... because the Senate believed these nominees for lifetime appointment would put justice and the law ahead of rigid ideology." Leahy promised action in 2002, but added: "The president can help by choosing more nominees primarily for their fairness and abilities instead of for their ideology."