Saturday, October 28, 2006

Recycled Your Computer? Guess Again!

By Bluebear2

You're green, you recycled your old computer. But where did it go?
Owners of computers, monitors, printers, digital cameras, TVs and other such electronic items may think they are doing a good deed and protecting the environment when they recycle them, but most often that is not the case.

In a report by the Inter Press Service News Agency, Greenpeace claims the export of toxic waste from industrialized countries to third world countries is occurring on a regular basis. Inspections were performed at 18 European seaports in 2005 and it was found that 47% of waste bound for export was illegal. It is estimated that 23,000 metric tons of illegal wastes came from Great Britain alone, bound for South-East Asia, India, Africa and China.

And it is further claimed:

In the United States, the Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition (SVTC), an environmental group campaigning against the export of electronic waste, estimates that 50-80 percent of the electronic waste collected for recycling is being exported to developing countries.
Technology Review claims, that due to high landfill costs here and competitive prices from impoverished nations, it is cheaper to send the waste overseas.

They also note that to get past EPA Regulations a little sleight-of-hand is used:
To get past Environmental Protection Agency regulations, vast quantities of recycled materials are separated domestically and then transferred through a difficult-to-trace series of buyers, sellers and brokers. Ultimately, they arrive … in impoverished cities in China, Pakistan and India, where cheap labor means every last screw can be salvaged and sold back to manufacturers.
In a report titled Exporting Harm -- The High-Tech Trashing of Asia it is estimated that in the ten year span from 1997-2007 the United States will have generated over 500 million obsolete computers.

So what is in these items that is so dangerous?
The Exporting Harm report, among other things, lists such highly toxic elements as lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium and brominated flame retardants.

This chart lists some of the most common items in a computer and the amount used.

It can easily be seen that this is a huge problem which needs a safe resolution.

And these are just a few of the components to be concerned about.

Where is this problem?
China is one place where in some small towns this waste lines the streets as people pick it over to remove as much of the valuable material as they can.
They bathe the motherboards in acid. Melt the solder off with torches and just plain pry parts loose with their hands. All the time exposing themselves to fumes and skin absorption of these toxins.
Often times these people are children as well as adults.

The remaining items are burned in the open air.
When burned, the plastics can give off dioxins --
some of the most poisonous substances known. Also the rain falling on the toxic remnants pollutes ground water and rivers, yet more sources of health problems.

Technology Reports puts it this way:

...80 percent of the consumer electronics ostensibly recycled through local organizations, is headed for one of the most impoverished villages in the world, welcomed by the population because disposal of the Western waste provides income and work for the local residents.

However, these abandoned consumer electronics do more than just help support the economy. The computers, mobile phones, digital cameras and MP3 players are veritable construction kits of noxious chemicals, the destruction of which can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory infections, emphysema, cancer, blood and brain disorders and liver damage.

Developing countries are littered with First World electrical detritus; the streets of exotically-named cities like Taizhou and Guiyu are lined with mother boards, graphics cards and deadly CRTs piled in mountains held together with insulated wire, micro-chips and glass.

Additional detrimental effects are listed in the following chart. (If you double-click on the chart it should open in a new window where you can enlarge it. It can also be found in the "Exporting Harm" report linked above.)

The Basel Convention attempts to solve the problem.
The Basel Convention was adopted in Basel, Switzerland in 1989 and went into force in 1992. Its purpose was to regulate the movement of toxic waste materials.

TWN reports that at a later meeting, the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes, over 100 countries signed on to ban all transfer of hazardous wastes for disposal, recycling or recovery.

Immediately after the meeting Greenpeace, having lobbied long for this agreement, gave a press release:
Greenpeace Policy Advisor and representative at the COPs, Dr Kevin Stairs, said that despite “an onslaught of tricks and bad faith negotiations by a handful of countries, the global community has refused to accept a future for toxic colonialism and has agreed on a real ban.… At last the loophole of being able to export hazardous waste under the guise of recycling will be eliminated, thus beginning a new era to promote waste prevention and clear production…. This will finally force the rich countries to take full responsibility for their hazardous waste production problems instead of dumping it on their neighbors. This was the original intent of this convention, and now it is fully a part of it.”
This is good news and when fully implemented it should help solve this issue, except for one not so small problem.

The US is a major holdout on the agreement.
The United States has not signed on to this agreement and refuses to do so as noted in the TWN article.
The United States has not yet ratified the Basel Convention and has been at the forefront of moves to enable “export for recycling” -- a subterfuge to export wastes, including household and municipal wastes and garbage, whose final disposal in landfills inside the country is opposed by local communities.
The "Exporting Harm" report also comments on the United States’ position.

It is sadly ironic that the United States was the first country in the world to recognize and uphold the principle of environmental justice. This principle asserts that no people, based on their race or economic status should be forced to bear a disproportionate burden of environmental risks.

The current U.S. policy of encouraging the quick and dirty route of export, hidden under the green cloak of the word “recycling”, is not only an affront to environmental justice but also to the principles of producer responsibility, clean production and pollution prevention.

The report goes on to say:

As long as manufacturers can evade the ultimate costs of their hazardous products via export to Asia, they can delay aggressively deploying their ingenuity to make sure their products are less toxic and burdensome to the planet.

In this regard, with little incentive, the electronics industry in the United States has, for the most part, moved at a snail’s pace in preventing the problem at the source through green, toxic-free, recyclable design. Instead, thanks to the convenient
pipeline of export, industry, aided by government, has taken a head-in-the-sand, business-as-usual, for-as-long-as-possible approach.

At least some American companies and states are stepping up to the plate.
In this report by Greenbiz there are some reasons to have hope.

On Feb. 25, 2003, the one year anniversary of the "Exporting Harm" report:
Sixteen private electronics recycling firms representing 22 facilities throughout North America have pledged to uphold rigorous environmental and social criteria for the dismantling and recycling of e-wastes.

Under the banner of “No Export, No Dumping, No Prisons” the signatory companies have all agreed, among other requirements to:

* prevent hazardous e-waste from going to municipal incinerators or landfills
* prevent the export of hazardous e-waste to developing countries
* use free-market rather than prison labor to dismantle or recycle e-waste

The criteria are contained in the landmark "Electronic Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship” was developed in conjunction with members of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, including the Basel Action Network, and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
To assist in this situation the State of California has started charging a fee on the sale of new computers to help defray the costs of truly and safely recycling these old electronics.

Also, both California and Massachusetts have banned these items from their landfills.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

So You Think You Can Tell Heaven From Hell?

by Agent 99

…Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

Dodos were daffy-looking flightless birds of the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. They were wiped out in the late sixteen hundreds by British sailors. Something larger than turkeys, about fifty pounds, they had token wings and a little swatch of feathers on behind. They were bluish, with black bills, big red W.C. Fields bulb hooks on the tips. They had short necks, short legs and strong feet. Evidently, they made a good meal for camping clutches of hale and hearty mates. They didn't have to shoot them, or even have to chase them. It was just like pulling up to the drive-up window at McDonald's. The sailors would come ashore, and dodos would waddle out to greet them. Meals in love with their consumers. Trust venturing forth to embrace sloth and vanity and greed. Pure, guiltless, guileless being on its way to isn't-this-great! bottomless entitlement. Dodos have become synonymous with stupidity, and maybe you can see why, but I don't think virtue has ever been stupid. It has never been stupid.

An extinct bird, one that may well be the very epitome of undignity, symbolizes extreme dignity, where it is real, where the air is hollow. Untaintable trust is beautiful -- even if on a practical level it is ill-advised. This should have been a world where a dodo gamboled its way to a sailor and was met with a loving embrace -- which, of course, was what the dodos, to a bird, were trying to elicit from the sailors so unfailingly and so tragically. The dodos weren't stupid in their endeavors; the sailors were in theirs. Posterity ought really to have the decency to get that straight. Even though the dodos were failures, in a Darwinian sense, we compound our failures by maligning them so mercilessly, right up to this day.

There are wizened pieces -- a head here, a foot there, the odd bodiless beak -- of dodos stashed away in museums. In other words, what few parts those porcine ancient mariners left uneaten. I think someone ought to try reviving some dodo DNA. The greatest possible use for cloning would be to bring back to life those who died of our stupidity. Think of the heroes who'd walk the sweet earth again! Think of the oceans full of whales! Think of the loving dodos cooing in our gardens! If the dodos had succeeded, I'd have moved to Mauritius as soon as my parents couldn't stop me, and there'd be a completely different world to share with you now.

Wish you were here….

[Heart tip to Pink Floyd, lyrics by Roger Waters, as sung by David Gilmour for Syd Barrett. ©1975]

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The End of the Internet as We Know It

In The Beginning
Jon Postel, a computer science professor at the University of Southern California, was the main person having oversight of the Internet according to this article at Foreign Working during the 1960s as a graduate student, he was one of a few engineers responsible for the internet.

Until 1998 he managed it for the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency, which was responsible for the internet’s early development.

Postel decided who should operate a country-code domain. National address suffixes were allocated to private individuals rather than government because the Internet was so new that there was usually no national organization to hand a suffix to.

“Besides, governments, and particularly their monopoly telecom carriers, more often hindered communications development than helped it.”

It became clear to officials in the United States and elsewhere by the mid-1990s, that the Internet could no longer be run by a single individual.

“After a bitter series of negotiations among the business community, governments, and nongovernmental organizations worldwide, the Clinton administration helped broker a compromise and established ICANN in 1998. Because the United States' hands-off approach had allowed the Internet to flourish, it seemed appropriate that the new organization be based in the private sector. This would make it more responsive, more flexible, and less prone to bureaucratic and political squabbling. The negotiations were so tense that Postel suffered a heart attack as they were ending and never lived to see the birth of the successor organization he was instrumental in creating.”

US Leads Battle for Control
By 2004 other nations were calling for a new arrangement which would lessen the US control over the internet.

Foreign reveals:

“… in November 2004 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a 40-person working group to address questions of Internet governance. Washington had planned to grant ICANN autonomy from its oversight in 2006. But the more other countries clamored for power, the more the United States reconsidered its policy of relinquishing control. Ultimately, it came down to national interest: Washington, with so much at stake in the Internet's continuing to function as it had, decided it was not prepared to risk any changes. So, as the UN working group was preparing to release its report (which, unsurprisingly, favored transferring authority over the Internet to the UN), the U.S. government made a preemptive strike.”

In this article from C-Net News they discuss this preemptive strike:

“The Bush administration announced Thursday that the U.S. government will not hand over control of the Internet to any other organization”

“The new principles, outlined by Assistant Commerce Secretary Michael Gallagher, say the U.S. government will ‘maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file.’ In addition, the principles say, the U.S. government will continue to maintain ‘oversight’ of ICANN and prevent its ‘focus’ from straying from technical coordination.”

US Fearful of Relinquishing Control
This year, in a July meeting of the U.S. Department of Commerce, fears were expressed over relaxing US control over ICANN.

This report from Information Week reveals their concerns:

“At a U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) hearing on Wednesday to assess whether the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) should be handed over to the private sector, most panelists indicated a preference for continued U.S. government involvement in the management of the Net.

“‘In terms of realistic alternatives, we think it's the best of some potentially unappealing options,’ said panelist David McGuire, director of communications for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a non-profit Internet advocacy group.

“Such ‘unappealing options’ were raised last November, at the United Nations-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia, when representatives of some of the non-democratic governments in attendance such as Cuba, China, Iran, and Syria pressed for greater say in the administration of the Internet.

“In a report last summer, the U.N.'s Working Group on Internet Governance argued that ‘no single government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international Internet governance.’

“Such sentiments prompted three U.S. congressmen—Rick Boucher, D-Va.; John Doolittle, R-Calif.; and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.—to introduce a non-binding House resolution last October to keep the DNS servers under the control of the not-for-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN) and the DoC.

“In a far-fetched warning on his Website, Congressman Goodlatte raised the possibility of U.N. soldiers surrounding ICANN's office in Marina del Rey, Calif., to wrest control of the Internet and turn it over ‘to the infamous international bureaucracy of the U.N.’”

The Even Bigger Issue – Direct Government Control

Law Enforcement
One form of control currently being sought is for the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to track and record internet usage.

In this USA Today story as presented by Raw Story we find that under a 1996 federal law called the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act:

“… Internet providers to retain any ‘record’ in their possession for 90 days ‘upon the request of a governmental entity.’

“In addition, Internet providers are required by another federal law to report child pornography sightings to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is in turn charged with forwarding that report to the appropriate police agency.”

But the Bush administration wants even more:

“FBI Director Robert Mueller on Tuesday called on Internet service providers to record their customers’ online activities, a move that anticipates a fierce debate over privacy and law enforcement in Washington next year.”

In keeping with the Bush administration mantra of terrorism, Mueller had this to say at a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Boston:

"Terrorists coordinate their plans cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet, as do violent sexual predators prowling chat rooms.

"All too often, we find that before we can catch these offenders, Internet service providers have unwittingly deleted the very records that would help us identify these offenders and protect future victims. We must find a balance between the legitimate need for privacy and law enforcement's clear need for access."

And Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Congress last month that "this is a national problem that requires federal legislation."

According to this Raw Story report, Michael Chertoff also was on hand to play the terror card:

“‘We now have a capability of someone to radicalize themselves over the Internet,’ Chertoff said on the sidelines of a meeting of International Association of the Chiefs of Police.

“‘They can train themselves over the Internet. They never have to necessarily go to the training camp or speak with anybody else and that diffusion of a combination of hatred and technical skills in things like bomb-making is a dangerous combination,’ Chertoff said. ‘Those are the kind of terrorists that we may not be able to detect with spies and satellites.’”

Also in the USA Today article we learn:

“Law enforcement groups claim that by the time they contact Internet service providers, customers’ records may be deleted in the routine course of business.”

But then again a more rational thinking is noted:

“Industry representatives, however, say that if police respond to tips promptly instead of dawdling, it would be difficult to imagine any investigation that would be imperiled.”

Also noted is the controversy involved:

“Justice Department officials admit privately that data retention legislation is controversial enough that there wasn't time to ease it through the U.S. Congress before politicians left to campaign for re-election.”

But the issue is not going away:

“…the idea is expected to surface in early 2007, and one Democratic politician has already promised legislation.”

There’s even more :

“during private meetings with industry officials, FBI and Justice Department representatives have cited the desirability of also forcing search engines to keep logs — a proposal that could gain additional law enforcement support after AOL showed how useful such records could be in investigations.”

In this article from we find that Iran is cutting back on the speed of their DSL and other high speed services to students and researchers:

“An official said last week that ISPs were now ‘forbidden’ by the Telecommunications Ministry from providing Internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (KBps), the Islamic Republic New Agency, Iran’s official news outlet, reported. No reason was given for the restriction.”

It is speculated that this is as a means of censorship to keep control over these groups of citizens:

“Critics said the restriction would hinder the work of students and researchers but said it appeared in line with what they see as a squeeze on the media by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who rails against the West.”

European Nations Seek More Control

The Center for Democracy & Technology reports:

“Advocates for the open, lightly governed Internet were shocked last month when the European Union aligned itself with countries like Iran, China and Brazil in calling for world governments to assert control over the Internet's core technical management functions. The EU proposal, offered near the end of a two-week UN conference on the Internet, appeared to deepen the rift between those nations calling for drastic changes to Internet oversight, and those like Argentina, New Zealand, the United States and many African nations, which support working to improve existing structures.”

And they give their opinion on the ramifications of such a move:

“From a public interest perspective, any direct government involvement in the Internet's technical management is less than optimal. The Internet's success as a platform for speech and political organization can be largely accredited to the fact that the technological underpinning of the global network has not been politicized. Although U.S. public interest advocates understand the concerns of world leaders who feel the United States plays too large a role in Internet oversight, we strongly disagree with the notion that the way to 'solve' that problem is to exponentially increase the number of governments involved in the process. For all the criticism of the United States, it must be noted that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees ICANN, has never vetoed a decision made by the body, which includes representatives from every region of the world.”

Government Control of Industries
Bush has just signed into law the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which attacks off-shore internet gambling, not by going after the casinos, but rather the banks and their credit cards used to make the gambling possible.

The BBC reports:

“…within months US credit card companies and banks will be forced to check for and refuse payment for most forms of online gambling.

“We've seen this before. In 2005 the US government clamped down on the sale of cigarettes over the net by using the same strategy, successfully restricting people from buying from states that had lower taxes.

“Instead of trying to manage the technology by banning poker-playing software or insisting that service providers block online gaming sites - neither of which would be effective anyway - the law puts pressure on the banks who actually move the money around.”

But this could also create a backlash:

“We hear of threats to take the US to the World Trade Organization, the WTO, on the grounds that the new law is an attempt to protect the US gambling industry from foreign competition rather than anything to do with morality.

“The government of Antigua, host to many offshore gambling companies, has successfully challenged the US on the issue in the past, and is reported to be considering further action.”

Corporate Control
Currently there is a big push by internet service providers to develop what is being referred to as a “two tier system”. Under this system the ISPs would be able to charge content providers different rates depending on the amount of traffic or bandwidth they require.

Up to this time the ISPs have faithfully practiced net neutrality wherein they transported data without discrimination, preference, or regard for content. This concept also allowed them to assume the role of “common carrier”, under which they are at arm’s length from the content that they carry and therefore exempt from any penalties associated with that content.

This approach has also allowed content providers such as websites and e-commerce companies to flourish, regardless of their size, based solely on the quality of their product or service, rather than how much money they have.

The BBC tells us in this report:

“Internet users have similarly benefited from the network neutrality principle. They enjoy access to greater choice in goods, services, and content regardless of which ISP they use.

“While ISPs may compete based on price, service, or speed, they have not significantly differentiated their services based on availability of internet content or applications, which remains the same for all.

“In short, network neutrality has enabled ISPs to invest heavily in new infrastructure, fostered greater competition and innovation, and provided all internet users with equal access to a dizzying array of content.”

But now, in the new atmosphere of corporate mergers and exorbitant profits with little or no regard to the customer, some ISPs are anxious to make even more money by charging more from some content providers.

Another ploy is to give priority service and speed to content originating on their own system while giving slower service to content from other ISPs.

“Some ISPs see the potential for greater revenue by charging websites or services for priority access to their customers.

“In the US, BellSouth Chief Technology Officer executive William L Smith, recently mused about the potential to charge a premium to websites for prioritizing downloading, noting that Yahoo could pay to load faster than Google.

“Reports last week indicated that BellSouth and AT&T are now lobbying the US Congress for the right to create a two-tiered internet, where their own internet services would be transmitted faster and more efficiently than those of their competitors.”

The Boston Globe further explains some of these issues:

“The proposal supported by AT&T and BellSouth would allow telecommunications carriers to offer their own advanced Internet video services to their customers, while rival firms’ online video offerings would be transmitted at lower speed and with poorer image quality.

“AT&T and other telecoms want to charge consumers a premium fee to connect to the higher-speed Internet. The companies could also charge websites a premium to offer their video to consumers on the higher-speed Internet. That could mean that a company like Yahoo might have to pay AT&T to send high-quality video to AT&T subscribers.”

But this is also a controversial proposition under heavy debate:

“The prospect of a tiered Internet with ‘regular’ and ‘premium’ broadband services is spawning fierce debate as Congress takes up a major overhaul of telecom regulations. The House of Representatives last month held hearings on a preliminary draft by two GOP congressmen, Joe Barton of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan, that would give the telecom companies the freedom to establish premium broadband services. The telecom bill is due for action early next year.”

But Google and several other large ISPs such as are fighting the proposal fearing they will have to pay millions of dollars to have their services carried. They also point out that small and start-up ISPs would not be able to compete thereby reducing consumer choices.

The discloses that the FCC has even signed on to the “two tier” idea.

“The FCC has decided to back a plan by AT&T which will mean that sites like Google which have heavy traffic will have to pay when comms companies send them customers.

“It will mean the end of a free and open internet and mean that the comms companies will be able to charge their customers twice for the same service.

“While many would have hoped that the FCC would step in to prevent what some have called ‘online extortion’ the watchdog has given its support to the move. FCC Chief Kevin Martin told the TelecomNext show that he supports such a ‘tiered’ Internet.”

What You Can Do
Sign a petition to Congress supporting Net Neutrality.
Call or write your Congressmember.

Revised 10/23/06

Saturday, October 14, 2006

US Dumping Ground for Dangerous Products

The Worlds Dumping Ground
Over the last few years many countries around the world have raised the levels of protection on various consumer goods which are either dangerous to consumers or damaging to the environment.

In that time the US has fallen behind and has now becoming the world’s dumping ground for such products.

These products range from manufactured wood such as plywood as well as the products made of such plywood, toys, cosmetics, insecticides, herbicides, cell phones, cameras and other consumer products.

In this LA Times story linked from Raw Story Professor Michael Wilson of UC Berkeley's Center for Occupational and Environmental Health states:

“The United States is becoming a "dumping ground" for consumer goods that are unwanted and illegal in much of the world.”

Wilson warned earlier this year in a report commissioned by the California Legislature that "the United States has fallen behind globally in the move toward cleaner technologies."

In the same article international chemical policy expert Alastair Iles, a research fellow at UC Berkeley says:

“The dumping problem is concentrated in a few product sectors. But these sectors happen to be really ubiquitous in the everyday lives of Americans. Chemical risks are being spread all over the country in ways that are invisible to consumers,”

It is also noted in the article that:

The California Air Resources Board “estimates that one of every 10,000 Californians is at risk of contracting cancer from breathing average formaldehyde levels found in homes and offices.”

“One birch plank from China, bought at a Home Depot store in Portland, gave off 100 times more formaldehyde than legal in Japan and 30 times more than allowed in Europe and China”

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

Banned Chemicals
Some of the chemicals wich are banned or stricktly limited in other countries are:

FORMALDEHYDE - used in glues for wood products, particularly plywood and particle boards. Exposure has been shown in human studies to cause nose and throat cancer and possibly leukemia, as well as allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches and sore throats.

PHTHALATES - used in cosmetics. Exposure has been linked to birth defects.

TOLUENE - used in nail polish and nail polish remover. Exposure has been linked to cancer and birth defects.

LEAD - found in some cell phones, digital cameras and even some Mexican candies. Exposure has been shown to cause mental development problems in children.

HERBICIDES AND INSECTICIDES - atrazine, aldicarb and endosulfan are among some of the most popular agents used in the US, yet banned elsewhere except for emergency use.

Other Products
Other products range from:

“Extension cords and electrical items that overheat and burn; fake ground-fault circuit interrupter plugs that don't always trip when overloaded; toys that can choke, cut, or poison young children; counterfeit batteries that leak acid, overheat, or spark; and disposable lighters that leak fuel or explode” according to this report by Consumer Reports

Even Herbal Medicines can be lethal as outlined in this report from

“The poison arrived in a plastic bottle from India bearing a simple label in English and Hindi. "Useful in flu and bodyache," it read. "Two tabs twice a day or as per physician's advice."

What it didn't say was that the herbal medicine, on sale at a store in Queens, contained 2,190 times the amount of mercury considered safe by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies”

Genetically Modified Crops and Food Products -the crops can spread to surrounding areas and even cross pollinate with natural crops and there are still questions about the effects of GM foods.

Other Countries Proactive
Numerous other countries have recently been very proactive in cleaning up the environment and protecting their citizens.

The LA Times reports that:

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

As an example the European Public Health Alliance reports in 2003 that:

“Last 8th July, an impressive coalition of European environmental, consumer, health, and women’s groups presented Europe’s most widely supported submission to the European Commission’s consultation on future chemicals law.

The submission was presented to European Commissioner Wallstrom by a coalition of the European Consumers Organisation, European Environmental Bureau, European Public Health Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Women in Europe for a Common Future, and WWF in the last week of the consultation on the draft directive on the proposed REACH legislation.

The Declaration for a Toxics Free Future, signed by 23,600 people as well as 483 wide-ranging public interest organisations, calls on the European Commission to protect health and the environment from hazardous chemicals. In addition to the coalition of groups presenting the Declaration, it was also supported by organisations including the Netherlands’ Council of Women, the German Childbirth Association, and the British Allergy Foundation.”

Among the items requested in this declaration were:

“*an obligation to phase out and substitute chemicals that accumulate in wildlife, humans or the environment, and those that disrupt hormones. Restricted uses of such chemicals should only be permitted temporarily, if safer alternatives are not available, and the use is essential to society;

* a full right to know, for both consumers and businesses, including what chemicals are present in products;

* a requirement that products imported into the EU have to conform to the same safety standards as those made in the EU.”

Focus Web reports on India upgrading their labeling on genetically modified products:

“This decision was taken by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in its meeting on 2nd May 2006 where it was decided that all imported crude soyabean oils should carry a declaration "extracted from Roundup Ready Soyabean". The exporters should also certify that the products are safe and also instructed for a safe disposal of the byproducts after oil extraction.”

Even China is stepping in:

“New Chinese regulations that will take effect March 1, 2007, could require companies to redesign the electronic and information technology products they manufacture for the Chinese market, whether in China or other countries. The rules are designed to reduce the public health and environmental effects associated with the disposal of such products, which often contain toxic or hazardous substances.
These new rules will apply to a wide range of goods, including radar and communications devices, radios, televisions, computers, home electronics, measuring instruments, software, and other electronic components, parts, applications and materials.”

But there is one caveat which is the crux of the whole problem:

“Goods made in China for export will not be affected by the new requirements.”

Why Is There This Problem?
In the article from the LA Times we are told:

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

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

The Consumer Reports puts it all in perspective when they tell us that “since the 1970s, when the CPSC was created and product safety became a federal goal” injuries and deaths from consumer products have been greatly reduced, but go on to note:

“That progress seems to be waning because powerful trends have converged to allow more unsafe products in the marketplace: America's transformation from net exporter to the world's largest importer has given more overseas manufacturers sanctuary from direct CPSC oversight. Consumer demand for ever-lower prices has given some manufacturers an incentive to cut costs by cutting corners on safety”

But that’s not all:

“At the same time, a decades-long erosion of the CPSC's budget and staff has forced the agency to wring ever more work from dwindling resources.

One major sign of trouble is the steeply declining number of CPSC recalls, detained shipments, and other enforcement actions, down 35 percent from 2001 to 2003. That drop is not a result of fewer unsafe products. Rather, it's caused by a reduced government effort to search for them, according to a CPSC report to Congress in February 2004. We had no trouble buying dozens of products that violate U.S. safety standards at stores in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas; only one of the items has since been publicly recalled by the CPSC

Loss of funding and staff. The CPSC's budget has shrunk to about half what it was in 1975, after adjusting for inflation. The staff was cut almost in half over the same period. But the CPSC now regulates ever more products. Its 470 employees oversee 15,000 household products, including appliances, electronics, furniture, toys, and yard equipment.”

“They are woefully inadequately funded,” says Gary Smith, M.D., chairman of the committee on injury, violence, and poison prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They need more staff and enabling legislation to give them more clout, because they are limited on what they can do by their congressional mandate.”

This reduced funding has created a situation where:

“As U.S. imports have surged, the CPSC shifted from searching for unsafe products in retail stores to inspecting shipping containers at the ports, says Alan Schoem, the CPSC's former director of compliance and a longtime staff member, who left the agency recently to work for a risk-consulting firm. The number of CPSC inspections of stores and factories has plummeted from 1,130 in 1999 to just 400 to 500 in 2004, the commission's reports show”

Even US Companies Take Advantage
Even some American based companies take advantage of the lax regulations here. One example is OPI Products, Inc. the largest manufacturer of nail polish and nail treatment products worldwide.

Phthalates, formaldehyde and toluene are all used in their products which they distribute in the US while at the same time they make products without these chemicals for distribution elsewhere in the world according to a report from Safe Cosmectics.

It Even Flows the Other Way
In another report from Consumer Reports, they list a number of cases where dangerous items which had actually been banned here were sent to other countries:

“• Wellmax extension cords were shipped to Panama in 2001 after nearly a million of them were recalled in the U.S. because their undersized wires could overheat and cause a fire. The CPSC notified Panamanian officials about the danger but had no authority to stop their exportation. In July 2004 we found some of the defective cords for sale over the Internet, for “export only,” by Wellmax, an importer in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

• Balloon-tongue “Zapper” toys were exported to the Dominican Republic in 2001, after 835,000 distributed by eight toy companies in the U.S. were recalled because children could inhale the balloons or choke. In August 2004 we found them still being sold in a party-goods store in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

• More than 500 flammable girls' and women's chenille sweaters were shipped to Israel and Japan in 1999. They failed U.S. flammability standards and would burn faster than newspaper if ignited, according to a CPSC recall notice.”

US Basic Labeling Requirements for Consumer Pakages
At their website The Office of Education, Science and Technology gives a list of the US Basic Labaling Requirements for Consumer Packaging.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

King George Subverts Congress

Bush issues more signing statements than all other Presidents combined.

In his endeavor to become King, George W. Bush has run rampant with the use of signing statements.
In a report in the Mercury News the American Bar Association tells us:
"From the inception of the republic until 2000, presidents produced fewer than 600 signing statements taking issue with the bills they signed. According to the most recent update, in his one-and-a-half terms so far, President George Walker Bush ... has produced more than 800."

These signing statements are being used to change the intent of the various bills submitted to Bush for his signature. These statements strive to interpret the bills or portions of them, to allow Bush to violate or fail to enforce any part he feels is unsuitable.

Signing Statements used as illegal Line Item Veto
In fact Bush seems to be trying to circumvent current Constitutional law by using these signing statements as a form of Line Item Veto.

John Dean, former White House Lawyer for Richard Nixon, had this to say about the issue:

“Bush is using signing statements like line item vetoes. Yet the Supreme Court has held the line item vetoes are unconstitutional. In 1988, in Clinton v. New York, the High Court said a president had to veto an entire law: Even Congress, with its Line Item Veto Act, could not permit him to veto provisions he might not like.

The Court held the Line Item Veto Act unconstitutional in that it violated the Constitution's Presentment Clause. That Clause says that after a bill has passed both Houses, but "before it become[s] a Law," it must be presented to the President, who "shall sign it" if he approves it, but "return it" - that is, veto the bill, in its entirety-- if he does not.

Following the Court's logic, and the spirit of the Presentment Clause, a president who finds part of a bill unconstitutional, ought to veto the entire bill -- not sign it with reservations in a way that attempts to effectively veto part (and only part) of the bill. Yet that is exactly what Bush is doing. The Presentment Clause makes clear that the veto power is to be used with respect to a bill in its entirety, not in part.
Bush's use of signing statements thus potentially brings him into conflict with his own Justice Department. The Justice Department is responsible for defending the constitutionality of laws enacted by Congress. What is going to happen when the question at issue is the constitutionality of a provision the President has declared unconstitutional in a signing statement?”

Other Legal experts agree
New York University law professor David Golove, specializing in executive power issues, states:

"It means that the administration does not feel bound to enforce many new laws which Congress has passed,"
"This raises profound rule of law concerns. Do we have a functioning code of federal laws?"

Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, brings us word of a report by the Congressional Research Service:

"It seems evident that the Bush signing statements are an integral part of the Administration's efforts to further its broad view of presidential prerogatives and to assert functional and determinative control over all elements of the executive decisionmaking process," the CRS study said.

"It appears that recent administrations, as made apparent by the voluminous challenges lodged by President George W. Bush, have employed these instruments in an attempt to leverage power and control away from Congress by establishing these broad assertions of authority as a constitutional norm."

"The broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure [i.e., to accustom] Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the President in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which the other branches may not intrude," the CRS report stated.

It follows that "the appropriate focus of congressional concern should center not on the issuance of signing statements themselves, but on the broad assertions of presidential authority forwarded by Presidents and the substantive actions taken to establish that authority."

In a Raw Story report from The Boston Globe, the CRS Report is further interpreted to show:

“The Bush administration is using signing statements as a means to slowly condition Congress into accepting the White House's broad conception of presidential power, which includes a presidential right to ignore laws he believes are unconstitutional”

Full Congressional Research Service Report in .PDF Format

Apologists Chime in
In a CBS report John Cornyn, R-Texas had this to say:

"The president is entitled to express his opinion. It's the courts that determine what the law is,"
"I don't know why the issue of presidents issuing signing statements is controversial at all."

And Justice Department lawyer Michelle Boardman had this opinion:

"Even if there is modest increase, let me just suggest that it be viewed in light of current events and Congress' response to those events,"
"The significance of legislation affecting national security has increased markedly since Sept. 11."

“A MODEST INCREASE....”? Bush = 800 compared to all the rest = less than 600? Modest??
Good Grief!!

Recent Examples of Bush Signing Statements
One recent example of Bush’s subversion of the will of Congress is presented by Edward Lazarus, former law clerk to Judge William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and to Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the Supreme Court of the United States:

“A related recent development puts the point in sharp relief. Last month, to much public fanfare, the President brought John McCain into the White House to announce before the assembled cameras that he was going to drop his opposition to McCain's proposed legislation banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees by all U.S. personnel, anywhere in the world. But under the Administration's approach to executive power, this concession -- as well as Bush's subsequent signing of the ban on torture -- was all an elaborate charade.

After all, under the Administration's theory, Congress has absolutely no power to limit the president's inherent authority as commander in chief to fight the war on terror. Which means that Bush signed the McCain bill while reserving to himself the right to violate its anti-torture provisions with impunity - and, of course, to do so in secret, so that the American people will never know (barring another leak to the New York Times) that he has flouted this very popular law.

In fact, when signing the Defense appropriation bill containing the McCain Amendment, Bush issued a signing statement euphemistically reserving just this authority to ignore the very law to which he had just put his name. Thus, the President wrote: "The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

That signed statement shows, in microcosm, how the President sees the separation of powers: The President, in his view of the world, can interpret away constraints on his power, such as those in the McCain Amendment, or FISA before it. And the courts can hardly question his dubious "interpretations" even if they gut the very statutes they construe: After all, there are "constitutional limitations on the judicial power" - though not, apparently, on the power of the executive”

In the Raw Story report from The Boston Globe another example of a signing report is noted. This one involves the Military Budget bill passed just last week in a 100-0 vote:

“Last week, for example, Bush signed the 2007 military budget bill, but then issued a statement challenging 16 of its provisions.

The bill bars the Pentagon from using any intelligence that was collected illegally, including information about Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable government surveillance.

In Bush's signing statement, he suggested that he alone could decide whether the Pentagon could use such information. His signing statement instructed the military to view the law in light of ``the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch."

Bush also challenged three sections that require the Pentagon to notify Congress before diverting funds to new purposes, including top-secret activities or programs. Congress had already decided against funding. Bush said he was not bound to obey such statutes if he decided, as commander in chief, that withholding such information from Congress was necessary to protect security secrets.”

American Bar Association speaks against Bush's signing statements
In this report from the Mercury News we hear from the American Bar Association:

“A task force of the American Bar Association has concluded that the president's unprecedented stream of signing statements poses a dangerous challenge to the constitutional checks and balances central to power in the United States. One of the signing statements reserves the right to torture detainees held in the war on terror.

The ABA report, to be released Monday, calls on Congress to exert more oversight and empower the courts to review presidential signing statements asserting the president's right to "ignore or not enforce laws." If unchecked, ABA President Michael Greco said in a prepared statement, the presidential use of signing statements "raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy."

"The president does not, and the administration does not, refuse to carry out the laws that have been passed by Congress and signed into law by the president," said White House press secretary Tony Snow, maintaining that Bush is not engaging in any "civil disobedience."

"In the context of trying to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution ... there will be places within signing statements - caveats - where he has reservations," Snow said. "It is not unusual - although we have done it more than previous administrations - to list those reservations, if nothing else, as markers, for issues that may later rise to be points of controversy."

"It's clear that a large number of the signing statements that have been issued by this administration claim the authority to disregard the law," Sonnett said. "This president is not the first president to do that. But he clearly has escalated the practice to what the task force believes is a dangerous new high. That has an impact on the separation of powers, and if it's left unchecked, it could do damage to our system and to the Constitution."”

In conclusion it is time to call on Congress and the Judicial system to put a stop to Bush’s end run around Congress and the Constitution and hold him to the principles of balance of power and the laws of the land.

SEARCHABLE DATA BASE of all the Presidential Signing Statements from Hoover to current.