Rachel's Democracy & Health News #852
"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"
Thursday, April 27, 2006................Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...
The Environmental Movement Isn't Dead, It Just Needs More Friends Recently the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) published a definition of what a local health department is supposed to do. If health departments did these things, they'd be powerful allies in protecting the natural environment and enhancing human health. This definitely seems worth exploring.
We MUST Stop Congress from Selling Out the Internet
For 10 years the Internet has given huge numbers of people easy access to information and communication. Recently, political organizing across the Net has begun to threaten the real "powers that be" -- the corporate powers behind the throne. Now corporations are making their move to restrict Internet access. Unless citizens take immediate action the Net will fall under corporate control. The fight for equal access is on.
Craig Williams Took on the Pentagon and Won
Craig Williams, director of the Kentucky-based Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG), has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for 2006. Craig organized this amazing citizens' group 15 years ago and has guided it ever since, sometimes licking envelopes and sometimes dreaming up creative national strategies. Operating on a shoestring, CWWG has had astonishing success changing the behavior of the world's largest bureaucracy, the Pentagon. Way to go, CWWG, and congratulations, Craig!
Industry Challenges 'Public Nuisance' Ruling
In California, chemical industry executives are heading up a business coalition that is trying to evade liability for harms caused by their products. Didn't their mothers teach them that each of us is responsible for the consequences of our own actions?
Deaths on the Job Increase for the First Time in a Decade
More than 55,000 workers were killed on the job or died from job - related illnesses in 2004. That's more than 150 funerals every day, 365 days a year. In 2004 the rate of traumatic deaths on the job increased for the first time in 10 years, with large increases in fatalities among Hispanic and foreign-born workers.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News, Apr. 27, 2006 [Printer-friendly version]
THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT ISN'T DEAD, IT JUST NEEDS MORE FRIENDS
By Peter Montague
Last week I suggested that environmentalists and environmental justice advocates might benefit by making alliances with public health professionals and agencies.
The argument is simple:
(1) The core philosophy of public health calls for preventing harm before it occurs instead of managing harm after it occurs. On the other hand, environmental professionals live under a regulatory regime based on risk assessment. The difference is real. The public health approach asks, "How much of this problem can we prevent?" but environmental regulations require environmental officials to ask, "How much of this problem can we declare acceptable?" -- in other words, how much harm can we allow these polluters to get away with? The "environmental" approach initiates a debate over a magic number that represents "acceptable" risk. The public health approach initiates a debate over the least-harmful alternative.
(2) Furthermore, public health agencies understand that there are three environments -- the natural, the built, and the social, all of which affect human health and quality of life. Public health officials readily understand that gender discrimination or racial discrimination can degrade people's health. They know that stress and poor nutrition make people more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals. On the other hand, it's a huge stretch for many environmental officials to incorporate "the social environment" into their thinking. For a time U.S. EPA seemed to be trying to incorporate environmental racism and environmental justice into its programs, but it failed almost completely. (Last summer EPA announced plans to eliminate race from its definition of "environmental justice" -- quite an astonishing denial of the available science, not to mention human experience.)
Anyway, last week I argued that community-based advocates for environmental health and justice could fruitfully explore alliances with public health professionals and agencies. Community activists always need new allies, and the public health agencies always need community support for their programs (and budgets) so they can continue to do their job, which is to protect public health.
In response to last week's Rachel's, I received two letters from community activists, both explaining that they had tried to work with their local health departments but had run into a brick wall. In one case, the health department seemed to resent sharing the spotlight with a non-governmental organization, and in the other case the health department was heavily influenced by corporate money sloshing around in the local political system.
I can sympathize totally. In most disputes over environmental health, many local health departments are simply absent. Worse, on more than one occasion I have found myself opposed by a local health official who denied that a toxic waste dump would have any effect on nearby residents' health, or that a garbage incinerator would degrade the air and tend to make people sick. In a society that has allowed corporate money to infiltrate and corrupt all the institutions of democracy (including elections, the media, law-making, the courts and even public schools), we should not expect our health departments to have an easy time opposing "development," even "development" that is clearly toxic and unjust. Health departments will be embedded in a political framework dominated by corporate money until we figure out how to change that reality. Until then, we've still got public health to worry about (and public health will no doubt be important in eventually dethroning corporations, which are "the new kings, the new tyrants," to use Gerry Spence's phrase).
Meanwhile, health departments are fundamentally important institutions and they should be strengthened. Furthermore, they operate under guidelines and principles that seem to demand that they speak out from time to time on important environmental health issues. Their core mission is nothing short of heroic. The question is how best to help them do their job.
Some 3000 local health departments are represented by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO -- pronounced Nay-Cho). Just last year NACCHO published a new "Operational definition of a functional local health department." The NACCHO definition was put together with the participation of more than 600 governmental public health professionals and local and state officials representing 30 different states. The NACCHO definition describes the duties, responsibilities and vision of a local health department.
NACCHO says the definition "will help citizens and residents understand what they can reasonably expect from governmental public health in their communities. The definition also will be useful to elected officials, who need to understand what LHDs [local health departments] do and how to hold them accountable. And, the definition will aid LHDs in obtaining their fair share of resources."
Operational definition of a functional local health department
The opening sentence reads as follows: "Governmental public health departments are responsible for creating and maintaining conditions that keep people healthy." Get that? Creating conditions that make people healthy. And then maintaining those conditions. That's a pretty powerful mandate. In contrast, the mission of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is "to protect human health and the environment." EPA's mission is reactive -- protect against threats. The public health mandate is proactive: create conditions that keep people healthy. Do you see the difference?
NACCHO goes on to describe what a "functional local health department" does. The definition of "local health department" may include a locally-governed health department, a branch of the state health department, a state-created district or region, a department governed by and serving a multi-county area, or any other arrangement that has governmental authority and is responsible for public health functions at the local level.
So what does a local health department do?
First a local health department "Understands the specific health issues confronting the community, and how physical, behavioral, environmental, social, and economic conditions affect them."
[So your health department has a mandate to concern itself with social and economic conditions that affect health. Public health professionals call these "the social determinants of health," and they include inequalities, social exclusion, social isolation, pyramids of status, racism, sexism, low income, stress, job loss, lack of control over one's circumstances, run-down housing, and so on.]
** Implements health promotion programs. [In other words, a public health department doesn't just stop bad things from happening; it takes steps to make good things happen.]
** Develops partnerships with public and private healthcare providers and institutions, community-based organizations, and other government agencies (e.g., housing authority, criminal justice, education) engaged in services that affect health to collectively identify, alleviate, and act on the sources of public health problems. [In other words, NACCHO expects your health department to form alliances with community-based citizen groups, among others.]
NACCHO says "All LHDs [local health departments] exist for the common good and are responsible for demonstrating strong leadership in the promotion of physical, behavioral, environmental, social, and economic conditions that improve health and well-being; prevent illness, disease, injury, and premature death; and eliminate health disparities." [NACCHO defines "health disparities" as "differences in populations' health status that are avoidable and can be changed. These differences can result from social and/or economic conditions, as well as public policy. Examples include situations whereby hazardous waste sites are located in poor communities, there is a lack of affordable housing, and there is limited or no access to transportation. These and other factors adversely affect population health."]
[So your local health department is supposed to exercise "strong leadership" in the promotion of environmental, social and economic conditions that improve health and well-being. Again, that's quite a mandate.]
NACCHO goes on to say that a functional health department...
** Addresses health disparities. [In other words, asks why some people are healthy and others are not. Probing this question gets you into some really interesting territory.]
** Obtain and maintain data that provide information on the community's health (e.g., immunization rates; hospital discharge data; environmental health hazard, risk, and exposure data; community- specific data; number of uninsured; and indicators of health disparities such as high levels of poverty, lack of affordable housing, limited or no access to transportation, etc.).
** Analyze data to identify trends, health problems, environmental health hazards, and social and economic conditions that adversely affect the public's health. ** Conduct or contribute expertise to periodic community health assessments.
** Engage the community to identify and solve health problems.
** Advocate for policies that lessen health disparities and improve physical, behavioral, environmental, social, and economic conditions in the community that affect the public's health.
** Inform the community, governing bodies, and elected officials about governmental public health services that are being provided, improvements being made in those services, and priority health issues not yet being adequately addressed.
I am now wondering why President Nixon in 1970 created an entirely new federal bureaucracy to deal with "the environment" when the public health system had been in place for 120 years and it already recognized the importance of maintaining clean air, water and soil. Public health in the U.S. started with the idea of preventing health problems by cleaning up the environment. So why did President Nixon need to create the EPA?
In my most cynical moments I suspect that President Nixon created EPA because it allowed him to
(a) not increase the budget of the public health agencies with their powerful mandate to worry about all three environments (natural, built and social);
(b) create a competing agency with a mandate to worry about only two environments (natural and built), thus isolating "environmentalists" from the potent source of political power inherent in the social determinants of health.
Isn't it time we all adopted a "public health perspective" on environmental problems, which entails:
** recognizing the importance of all three environments (natural, built and social)
** exploring our local health department to see if they meet the NACCHO definition and, if they do, explore alliances with them, and, if they don't, then explore how they can be reformed and strengthened to fall into line with the NACCHO definition.
Of course it's not a silver bullet but it seems like a huge opportunity waiting to be seized. As I like to say, the environmental movement definitely isn't dead, but it's lonely and needs more friends. The public health community could be a new set of friends -- and good friendships benefit everyone.
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From: TomPaine.com, Apr. 28, 2006 [Printer-friendly version]
By Timothy Karr
[Timothy Karr is campaign director for Free Press, which is coordinating the SavetheInternet.com coalition.]
As of this morning, more than 1,500 blogs have taken up a new cause, posting links to SavetheInternet.com and urging their readers to call on members of Congress to stand firm in defense of Internet freedom.
And, for the first time in blogger history, the Hill is hearing it.
The cyberstorm is over "Net Neutrality," the principle that prevents large telephone and cable companies from controlling what we do, where we go and what we watch online. As part of a vote on new telecommunications legislation on Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee members defeated an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., that would have protected net neutrality by a count of 34-22.
What's remarkable about this result is the shift that occurred on Capitol Hill in the week prior to the vote. An unlikely coalition of political activists from the right and left, consumer groups, bloggers and Internet gurus banded together at SavetheInternet.com and sent more than 250,000 letters to Congress. This sparked an Internet revolt among bloggers who heaped scorn upon any member of the House who dared side with companies like AT&T and Verizon, which are spending millions of dollars in Washington to dismantle the rules that would stop their plans to control Internet content.
When it came time to vote on Markey's amendment, two Democrats on the committee switched their previous votes to favor net neutrality and several others, who had been undecided, also voted for the amendment, citing the explosion of public interest in the issue.
More elected officials on both sides of the aisle, in both the House and the Senate are now monitoring the pulse of the blogosphere as this issue spreads offline.
"We would not have turned the corner in this fight without your blogs, your voices," Congressman Markey said yesterday during a teleconference with bloggers. "We need to put every member of Congress on record on where they stand on the future of the Internet," Markey said. That momentum has shifted in Congress, he continued, "is a reflection of the rumbling in cyberspace about what's going on with this bill."
Bloggers from left, right and center, including DailyKos, BuzzMachine, Atrios, Instapundit and even actress Alyssa Milano, called on their readers to pay very close attention to this issue. They've urged everybody to go after any elected representative who ignores the public interest in favor of the well-heeled telephone and cable lobbyists that have swarmed Capitol Hill as representatives attempt to rewrite telecommunications law.
Undaunted by the committee defeat, Markey is now rallying colleagues on the left and the right to support the introduction of his Network Neutrality Amendment onto the full floor of the House next week.
But it's an uphill battle. For the amendment to be voted upon by all members, it has to first get past the House's gatekeepers on the Rules Committee, which Rolling Stone 's Matt Taibbi calls , "the free world's outstanding bureaucratic abomination -- a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish."
This 13-member committee (nine Republicans and four Democrats) holds the congressional agenda in its grip. If Rules votes down your amendment, your amendment is DOA. Bloggers are banding together to ensure that no member of Congress gets off the hook that easily.
"There's a white hot firestorm on the issue on Capitol Hill," Matt Stoller said in a post at MyDD. "No one wants to see the telcos make a radical change to the Internet and screw this medium up, except, well, the telcos."
Politicians get scared when they realize the public is paying attention. As the blogosphere catches fire, momentum is shifting in Washington. Whereas before the big telephone companies and their coin- operated lobbyists were confident that Congress would simply roll over and do their bidding, today no member of Congress can vote with the telecom cartel without expecting repercussions.
The public is now watching and, with increasing frequency and volume, the message is getting through to Congress: we will not stand for any law that threatens Internet freedom.
We can all take action now to save the internet.
Copyright 2006 TomPaine.com
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From: Grist, Apr. 27, 2006 [Printer-friendly version]
CRAIG WILLIAMS TOOK ON THE PENTAGON TO STOP CHEMICAL-WASTE BURNING
By Michelle Nijhuis
"We're a little outnumbered, and a little outspent," says Craig Williams, "but we've turned around decisions by the biggest bureaucracy on the planet." Williams, founder of the nonprofit Chemical Weapons Working Group and a cabinetmaker by trade, has been fighting for more than two decades to ensure that the U.S. military disposes of chemical weapons safely.
In 1985, when Williams found out that the Department of Defense planned to incinerate weapons at an Army depot just eight miles from his Kentucky home, the Vietnam veteran took action, joining forces with citizens living near other proposed weapons incinerators. Nearly a decade of steady lobbying and petitioning convinced Congress to delay funding for some of the incinerators, and order a study of alternative weapons-disposal methods.
Since then, thanks to persistent watchdogging by CWWG, the Army has adopted safer disposal methods at several sites, including the Blue Grass Army Depot near Williams' home. His group continues to push for environmental compliance, workers' rights, and public accountability at incinerators and other weapons-disposal sites around the country.
Williams, 58, was awarded one of six 2006 Goldman Environmental Prizes on April 24. He spoke to Grist from San Francisco.
Question: Tell me how you began your campaign against chemical- weapons incineration. What made you decide to act?
Answer: I went to a public meeting where the Army announced that we had weapons of mass destruction in our community, and that their proposal was to burn them in the middle of our community. They said that anyone who had any Question: s should raise their hand. And I've still got my hand up.
On the way home from that meeting, my wife looked at me and said, "Craig, someone's got to do something about this," and -- since I always do what I'm told by my wife -- 20-some-odd years later, here we are.
Question: How did you encourage others to join you?
Answer: There was a lot of interest in our community about this proposal, and subsequently there were a number of scoping meetings -- public meetings required by the National Environmental Policy Act -- and it became apparent to us that the Army was just going through the motions, and weren't really interested in what anyone had to say. And there were literally thousands of people who showed up to these meetings in Kentucky, which is unusual because it's a fairly conservative state -- it's relatively patriotic and so on.
But we began to realize that we could have everyone in Kentucky turn out to oppose this thing, and we were probably still going to get run over by the juggernaut of the Pentagon. So we began to reach out to other communities, places that we assumed had some folks in them who shared our concerns. We felt it would be advantageous to all these communities to work together, to share strategies as to how to turn this thing around. So that's how we formed this coalition.
Question: As a veteran, what did it mean to you to Question: military authority?
Answer: Well, frankly, it wasn't a new concept to me. I had a rather jaded military career -- I was never demoted or court-martialed or anything, but I've never shied away from confronting authority if I thought something was wrong. I don't automatically grant that someone has the right Answer: s just because they're in charge of something. So it didn't bother me at all that they were the Army. I just knew that the principle of what they were proposing was dangerous for my family and for my community, and that basic guiding principle has motivated me all these years.
Question: What are the most effective strategies your group has used?
Answer: It's been the focus on solutions, rather than just opposition. If you go into a situation and take out the light bulb, you're much more effective if you replace it with another one, rather than leaving everyone in the dark screaming at each other. I'm not a scientist or a chemist or an engineer, but we recruited people with expertise and worked with them to generate viable solutions to what was being proposed. Over the course of time, we convinced people in power -- in the legislative process, and in the military itself -- that these were safer solutions.
The second element in our success, I think, is that we never say something unless we can prove it. That's the No. 1 rule in our office. It may sound nice and sexy, or emotionally correct, and it may advance your agenda, but if you can't back it up, don't say it. Credibility in the activist world is a very, very precious commodity. It's fascinating how the military can get up on a Tuesday and lie, get caught on Wednesday and apologize, then get up on Thursday and be believed. The activist community doesn't have that privilege. We have to be right all the time -- if we're not, we get crucified by every PR firm the Army can hire.
Question: What do you consider your greatest victories so far?
Answer: Well, my wife's still with me after 20-some years of this, so that's pretty significant. Clearly, we're proud to have turned around Pentagon decisions. I mean, we have four people who work on this full- time -- four people who are paid -- and the Pentagon has a few more than that. We have a budget of under $200,000 a year, while their program for this project is now pegged at around $40 billion.
Question: If you hadn't stuck your hand up at that meeting years ago, what do you think your neighborhood would be like today?
Answer: I think we'd be in the shape of communities where these incinerators are operating. Even though the Army likes to pretend that everything's rosy, the bottom line is that these facilities emit toxic materials into the environment on a chronic basis, even when they're operated as designed. Often there are small quantities -- or more -- of actual chemical warfare agent that come out of the smokestacks of these facilities and drift into these communities. Low-level, chronic exposure to these things is known to create neurological problems, and the other emissions -- of which there is quite a lengthy list -- include some of the most hazardous stuff known. In our community we're using a controlled, low-temperature approach, which allows you to control the waste stream that includes these very lethal materials. So we're clearly in a safer and more protected position.
Question: What does this prize mean to you?
Answer: Well, there's nothing wrong with being validated. Honestly, what it means to me, more than anything else, is that it raises our visibility on this issue, and provides an even greater level of credibility for us.
Question: What do you plan to do with the money?
Answer: I'm going to give it to my wife, what do you think? Actually, I'm going to give some of it back to the foundation, and some to my staff, who have been extraordinary. There have been times when we couldn't raise money, and we had to lay everyone off, including myself, and everyone still showed up and worked a 10-hour day. So we're going to use it to continue our efforts, and to compensate people who have worked very hard.
- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -
Michelle Nijhuis is a freelance writer in Paonia, Colo., and the winner of the 2006 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism.
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From: Chemical and Engineering News, Apr. 25, 2006 [Printer-friendly version]
INDUSTRY CHALLENGES 'PUBLIC NUISANCE' RULING
Chemical manufacturers say California court ruling could subject industry to open-ended product liability
By Glenn Hess
A chemical-industry-led business coalition is urging the California Supreme Court to review a lower court's decision that the industry claims would create "limitless and open-ended liability for manufacturers whose products are sold in California."
A ruling in March by the state's 6th Appellate District Court "threatens to erode well-established doctrines" of California product liability law and would allow plaintiffs to circumvent the statute of limitations in such cases, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and other business groups warn in a brief filed on April 24.
The opinion issued by the court of appeals regarding Santa Clara County v. Atlantic Richfield Co. broadly holds that paint manufacturers may be liable to various counties and cities suing under a "public nuisance" theory based on health hazards posed by paint applied before 1978, when manufacturers stopped putting lead in paint.
The coalition told the state Supreme Court that such a precedent would drive manufacturers and their products out of California and negatively impact commerce throughout the U.S.
"If this holding stands, it will open up an extraordinarily broad right of action against anyone who even indirectly contributed to a dangerous property condition including manufacturers of all types, as well as builders and other contractors who directly or indirectly participated in the use of potential irritants or other hazardous materials on property," ACC Deputy General Counsel Donald D. Evans told C&EN. "Because of its breadth, many members of ACC could be adversely affected by this decision."
Quentin Riegel, NAM's vice president for litigation, says he is concerned that lower courts have thus far permitted a public nuisance claim in this case even though the lead pigment products in question were used more than 20 years before the suit was filed and complied with government standards at the time.
"California's high court needs to get involved here and restore some common sense," Riegel remarks. "Otherwise, these nuisance suits -- even those against manufacturers whose chemicals comprise a mere fraction of a given product -- will routinely be brought by public agencies every time they decide that a purported 'public health hazard' requires abatement.
"The thinking is: Why make property owners or taxpayers pay for clean- up when we can make manufacturers pay?" Riegel notes. "But property owners and taxpayers are also consumers, and manufacturers would have no option but to pass the costs associated with increased liability on to consumers."
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From: AFL-CIO, Apr. 26, 2006 [Printer-friendly version]
DEATHS ON THE JOB INCREASE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A DECADE
State by State and National Numbers on Job Deaths and Injuries Included in New Report
The rate of fatal workplace injuries increased for the first time in a decade, according to a new AFL-CIO job safety report, "Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect -- A National and State-by-State Profile of Worker Safety and Health in the United States."
"Our nation is still grieving the Sago mineworkers' deaths and we find it outrageous that in this era more than 150 workers die on the job each and every day," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "It doesn't have to be this way. America's corporations must invest more in health and safety protections for working men and women, and our nation's leaders must start holding them tightly accountable."
The study shows the reported rates of workplace fatalities rose overall and the reported rates of illnesses and injury declined slightly. On an average day in 2004, 152 workers lost their lives as a result of workplace injuries and diseases and another 11,780 were injured, according to the study. Protections across the states vary widely. Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, West Virginia and Kentucky had the highest fatality rates, while Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware and Massachusetts had the lowest.
The study also shows workplace deaths for Latino and immigrant workers sharply increased. In 2004, the fatality rate among Latino workers was 19 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. At the national level, fatal injuries to immigrant Latino workers increased 11 percent from 2003 to 2004. Of the foreign born workers who were fatally injured at work in 2004, 60 percent were Latino. The states with the highest number of workplace fatalities among Latino workers were California with 169 deaths, Texas with 150 deaths and Florida with 119 fatalities.
Over the last five years, the Bush Administration cut the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) budgets and put much greater emphasis on voluntary efforts and partnership programs with industries. This does not allow OSHA and MSHA to adequately deal with the new and emerging hazards, including risks to workers from bioterrorist threats and pandemic flu. Additionally, under the Bush Administration, rule making at OSHA and MSHA has ground to a halt. At MSHA, 17 safety and health rules were withdrawn, including rules on mine rescue teams, emergency escape ways and self-contained self- rescuers -- all of which could have helped save the 12 miners who died at the Sago mine earlier this year and the miners who lost their lives in the subsequent mine disasters.
Penalties for safety and health violations continue to be low. For federal OSHA the average penalty for a serious violation was just $873. And as the workforce has grown, OSHA's resources have stagnated. It would now take federal OSHA 117 years to inspect the workplaces under its jurisdiction just once, with inspection workplace oversight in Florida the worst with an inspection frequency of once every 210 years.
Since the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, over 324,000 workers' lives have been saved. The state-by-state safety report shows that given the size and cost of the job safety problem, the level of federal resources being devoted to job safety and health protections continues to be inadequate, according to the AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO study release is part of Workers Memorial Day, April 28, a worldwide annual event going into its 18th year. Tens of thousands of union members and concerned community members will hold events this week to honor those hurt and killed on the job.
For a copy of the report, "Death on the Job," go to www.aflcio.org/deathonthejob
Contact: Kate Snyder (202) 637-5018
Copyright 2006 AFL-CIO
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Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what might be done about it?"
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