Environmental Change: Unless the Corporatocracy Does It, It Don’t Mean Much

From Mark Morford:

 Just look around. It feels as though your heart is being eaten by angry capitalist cockroaches. Like your id is being munched by deranged zombie architects. And your eyes, oh God your eyes, they can’t help but be burned like charcoal as they take in mile after mile, town after town, dreary suburban dystopia after dreary suburban dystopia of massive gluttonous eco-mauling overdevelopment, more Wal-Marts and SUV dealers and scabby strip malls and so many generic prison compounds that are apparently actually tract-home complexes it makes you want to rip out your soul with a pickax and feed it to the few remaining wild coyotes in Joshua Tree before someone shoots them all to make way for a new Home Depot.

This, then, is the conundrum: On the one hand, we are ever trying to convince ourselves that we can make a difference on a humble individual basis, in our daily lives, little by little and one recycled Evian bottle at a time, and yet the destructive proof to the contrary is so vast and omnivorous it seems like a nice rerun of “Bambi Meets Godzilla.” It can feel as though your little eco-home, your little ethically raised wool rug mean about as much in the overall scheme of earthly health as a speck of organic lint in a nuclear waste dump.

***

McDonald’s eventually dumped the Styrofoam. But here’s the story’s big kicker: Just that one simple shift, that one tiny change in corporate behavior affected an enormous industry all the way down the line, so much so that they figured it was the environmental equivalent of something like 50 million people deciding to recycle plastic bottles. It was at once staggering and humbling.

In other words, sure you can do your part at home, sure your drop in the environmental bucket helps get the plastic wet, but real, serious change can’t even begin until the corporate and political leviathans decide it’s good business to pretend they have a soul.

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Sheila Holt-Orsted’s Crusade: Cancer, Racism and the Class War

There are times and places when the lines of culture, politics, science, and social conventions come crashing together, when the attitudes we’ve been ignoring and the problems we’ve refused to address converge to create a snapshot reality of where we are and where we’ve been. Call it Ground Zero-Prime.

In Dickson County, Tennessee, Sheila Holt-Orsted is living right smack dab in the middle of Ground Zero-Prime. In her family, and what happened to them, four of the major cultural strains of the past half-century collide: racism, the Class War, denial of environmental neglect, and pandering to corporate greed at the expense of public health and safety.

Sheila had breast cancer. Her father died of prostate and bone cancers. Her sister has had a form of colon cancer. And there’s more.

Three of Holt-Orsted’s cousins have had cancer. Her aunt next door has had cancer. Her aunt across the street has had chemotherapy for a bone disease. Her uncle died of Hodgkin’s disease. Her daughter, 12-year-old Jasmine, has a speech defect.

Why all this in one family? You’re recognizing the pattern, aren’t you? And you’re already suspecting that they lived near a toxic waste site. Well, you’re right – and wrong. It was toxic, alright, but it wasn’t supposed to be. The source of the cancers was a landfill – the County dump.

Continue reading

Unions and Conservative Conservation Group Hook Up

A number of unions have decided to join forces with a hunters’ club to push the Bush Administration toward conservation (and good luck with that right off the bat).

In a first-of-its-kind alliance that could fundamentally reshape the environmental movement, 20 labor unions with nearly 5 million members are joining forces with a Republican-leaning umbrella group of conservationists — the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership — to put pressure on Congress and the Bush administration.The Union Sportsman’s Alliance, to be rolled out in Washington on Tuesday after nearly three years of quiet negotiations, is to be a dues-based organization ($25 a year). Its primary goal is to increase federal funding for protecting wildlife habitat while guaranteeing access for hunters and anglers.

The unlikely marriage of union and conservation interests comes at a time when the Bush administration, with its push for oil and gas drilling in the Rocky Mountain West, has limited public access to prime hunting and fishing areas on federal land. This has triggered a bipartisan backlash from sportsmen and conservation groups, as well as from Western politicians in both parties.

They’re pissing into the wind. The ulta-rightists and corporate lapdogs of the Bush Administration are about as likely to swap coal, oil, and gas exploration for hunting and fishing as Ann Coulter is to swap her miniskirts for a nun’s habit. It ain’t gonna happen. Continue reading

IBM settles 50 lawsuits by former San Jose plant workers

One of the biggest dangers that almost all workers face at one time or another is the workplace itself. Whether it’s RMS (Repetitive Motion Syndrome) or toxic chemicals and pollutants or SBS (Sick Building Syndrome), we are all exposed to debilitating workplace hazards that can–and do–make us ill or even kill us, often years after that exposure.

Corporate history on this issue is abysmal when it isn’t criminal (remember Erin Brockovich? That’s standard behaviour): denial, unconscionable personal attacks on the victims involving innuendo and outright lies, bald-face lying to investigating authorities, cover-ups, destruction of evidence, the list goes on and on. The one thing not on that list is: they never agree to clean up their mess until they’re forced to, either by govt or the courts.

Which makes me wonder about this item:

NO TERMS WERE DISCLOSED IN TOXIC CHEMICALS CASES

By Therese Poletti

San Jose Mercury News

IBM has settled 50 toxic chemical lawsuits brought by former employees at its San Jose manufacturing plant.

The terms of the confidential settlement in the closely watched litigation were not disclosed.

Chris Andrews, a spokesman for the Armonk, N.Y., computer giant, said Wednesday that a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge dismissed the cases following a settlement between the company and the plaintiffs.

Richard Alexander, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in San Jose, did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

In February, a Santa Clara County Superior Court jury rejected two former IBM workers’ claims that they suffered systemic chemical poisoning as a result of their work at IBM’s Cottle Road disk drive manufacturing plant between the 1960s and 1980s.

Alida Hernandez, 73, and James Moore, 62, contended that exposure to acetone, benzene, trichloroethylene and other chemicals used in manufacturing clean rooms caused them to develop cancer. Hernandez suffered from breast cancer, and Moore has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The former IBM workers alleged that IBM knew they were ill and concealed that information from them. Their case, in which they were seeking millions of dollars in punitive damages, was the first of the some 50 similar cases to go to trial. The jury verdict in favor of IBM was unanimous.

In March, Judge Robert Baines put the remaining cases on hold and ordered both parties to meet with a mediator.

As far as I know, this is unprecedented. Oddities:

1) It’s not unusual for a judge to order the remaining parties in a large lawsuit like this into mediation after a verdict is either split or goes to the plaintiffs; it’s very unusual for a judge to do so when the verdict is unanimous and in favor of the defendant;

2) The company went into mediation; standard form is to appeal the judge’s ruling, and given the jury’s decision, IBM would have grounds for it to be set aside;

3) IBM has been involved in a number of suits resulting from unsafe working conditions and toxic poisoning; their history is to settle before the trial begins or after they’ve lost:

IBM previously settled two birth-defects cases in New York. In March, IBM settled a birth-defects lawsuit with the daughter of a former semiconductor plant worker in East Fishkill, N.Y., just before jury selection was to begin. Terms of that settlement were not disclosed. The plaintiff, Candace Curtis, was seeking $100 million in damages.

In January 2001, IBM settled another birth-defects lawsuit with the family of Zachary Ruffing, who was born blind. Both his parents worked at the East Fishkill plant in the 1980s.

Why agree to a settlement after an outright win? The PR pounding, maybe; sometimes it’s more harmful for a company to have its workplace practices exposed in print even if it wins its case than if it just pays everybody to go away and keep it out of the media. But why did the judge order it? After the defendant loses, it’s in everybody’s interest to settle and get the suit out of the courts, but when the defendant wins it’s only in the interest of the plaintiffs. And I’m not the only one who thinks this is odd.

“It is difficult to draw conclusions” from confidential settlements, said John Kalin, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in toxic tort cases. “Usually, when it’s a confidential settlement, it’s requested by the corporation.”

Kalin said companies typically try to reach confidential settlements so the settlement cannot be used against them in future litigation. But he also noted that in the San Jose case the plaintiffs might not have had a lot of influence. “If you don’t have a favorable jury verdict, you don’t have the kind of leverage you would have if you had gotten a multimillion-dollar verdict.”

(emphasis added)

The only time I’ve ever seen judges do that is when they thought there had been a miscarriage of justice and that the jury–which it’s allowed to do–had ignored the law in reaching their verdict to such an extent that the equivalent of legal violence had been done. I think that’s what may have happened here.

Who knows why the jury did what it did? I wasn’t sitting in the courtroom and I don’t. What does seem clear is that, for whatever reason, IBM, as corporations do far too often, has once again dodged an accountability bullet by buying its way out of mistakes and/or policies that harmed its workers.

We were not, we are not, a priority for them, no matter what they say when they want to cut our pay. Or abandon our suit against them.