Monthly Archives: April, 2007

The Masses Rally to Stop Concrete Plant

Bumped: Some people have written powerful and well-informed letters, so this post has been bumped up.

The Projo puts the estimate over 200 and CCRZD is saying it was close to 300 people who turned out last night, donning dust masks to oppose the concrete plant being built off Pontiac Avenue on Marine Drive in Cranston, RI.

Flooded area of Cullion Concrete Plant.

One thing that needs to be stressed about the DEM’s approval of this concrete plant is that one stipulation of the permit was that Cullion would remove all trucks from the premises before any threat of heavy rain. As you can see from the picture, they are already breaking the rules. What is the likelihood that they will do the things necessary to keep the plant from posing environmental hazards?

CCRZD is asking people to file objections to the approved permit for the Cullion Concrete Plant on Marine Drive.

Everyone who lives anywhere near the Cullion Concrete plant, and/or cares about our Narragansett Bay, should send a registered letter to Dr. Michael Sullivan, DEM Director, filing an objection to the new Cullion permit, Insignificant Alteration Permit #06-0557, issued on April 9, 2007.

Letter should request a public hearing and should state that the writer is formally appealing the DEM’s action. We have until April 29 to file these objections, and letters should if possible be sent by certified mail, so DEM can’t say that they did not get them. Letter should also mention the fact that although stipulation # 17 on page 3 of the permit states that all vehicles stored on site shall be removed preceding flooding events, that CCRZ&D and others have pictures of at least three vehicles under water that were not removed. Note that the permit was issued on April 9, 2007, and this violation occurred on April 16, 2007, just seven days later. If the DEM lets this one slide, then it’s a clear indication that they will do nothing about future violations.


Frank Mattiucci, Pres.

Letters should be mailed to Dr. Michael Sullivan, DEM Director, 235 Promenade Street Providence, RI 02908-5767.

Feel free to use our comments section to post the letters you’ve written to the DEM. I will do so with mine, once I write it.

Too Cozy with Big Pharma?

In today’s Chicago Tribune, Bruce Japsen reports on a recent study that sheds additional light on just how pervasively cozy the relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical companies has become in this country:

Doctors refuse to take bitter no-gift medicine

Whether it be Subway sandwiches for the office staff or reimbursement for continuing education, gifts showered upon doctors by drug- and medical device-makers have become so pervasive that they are a standard part of virtually every U.S. physician’s practice.

Despite self-policing initiatives launched by organized medical groups and the drug and device makers to curb the cozy relationship between physicians and industry, 94 percent “or virtually all” physicians have at least one type of relationship with the drug industry, according to a study scheduled to be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study indicates that those self-policing initiatives are not always followed.

Consumers should care about such relationships because drug companies tend to market the latest and most expensive brand names, and gift-giving can influence prescribing behavior and therefore how much Americans spend on prescriptions, the authors said.

Drug marketing and conflicts of interest between doctors and medical product companies have come under congressional scrutiny because of their impact on costs and because of safety issues involving heavily promoted drugs, including Vioxx, the painkiller that was pulled from the market in 2004, nearly two years after studies showed it increased risks of heart attacks.

“Relationships with industry are a fundamental part of the way medicine is practiced today,” said the study’s lead researcher and co-author, Eric Campbell, an associate professor of medicine at the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Campbell said consumers have reason to be concerned about the study’s findings. [full text]

Staring through the Window at Ralph Nader

I could have stood in line, where he was autographing his latest at Books on the Square today, but I would only have rebuked him. Since he is reputed to be a hard-headed man, I didn’t think I could change his mind — smarter people than I have failed to shake his certainty. Seven years ago, Ralph Nader had more power in American politics than any one person should have. With an American public so hypnotized, misled, or hopeless that only about 40% of us vote, some of the most committed and informed voters were Greens. In previous elections I voted for Nader too, but it was a symbolic act. Green Party was never going to win a national election, even for local offices it was a long shot. Now in 2000 we had a choice between Al Gore and that grinning frat boy, George Bush. Al Gore won, and even a percentage of the Green Party votes would have sealed that victory and put it beyond the reach of the Republican Party to steal the election.

In the final days, when it was clear the election was too close to call, Ralph Nader kept insisting that there was no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. History shows otherwise. Al Gore would not have ignored a memo titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.’ If he had not been able to prevent the 9/11 attack he would not have responded by invading a country that had not attacked us. A Gore administration wouldn’t be staffed by incompetent cronies. Al Gore wouldn’t have vacationed while New Orleans drowned, as much in bureaucracy as in hurricane waters.

This November when the Democrats took the House and Senate you could hear a change in tone on the news. We were a two-party system again. Not six months later investigations are underway, a vote is up on an exit plan for the Iraq war, the frat boy is not getting a blank check from a rubber-stamp Congress anymore.

Ralph Nader made his reputation on integrity, on principles, on speaking truth to power. It’s not fair that things turned out the way they did, but we are worse off because he gained enough power to swing the vote, and was not enough of a politician to see the strategy. He helped put George Bush in office, to the great detriment of our country.

I’m a Unitarian, and we don’t do righteous. We should try to be good, but it’s dangerous to be Good, and it’s folly to be God.

File a Complaint with EPA New England

Cullion Concrete Plant, April 2007

Here’s mine:

Dear EPA of New England, I am writing to express my concern about the concrete plant being built on Marine Drive in Cranston, RI. The DEM issued a permit to build this concrete plant on a flood plain in very close proximity to residential homes. They are already violating their own permit by leaving vehicles on the property during a flood. Please stop this environmental hazard from invading our community.

You file your own complaint by going to this page:

Whitehouse Presses Johnson on Global Warming

Sci-Tech Today covered Tuesday’s hearings on Capitol Hill in which EPA Director Stephen Johnson was asked to put forth a timetable to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions:

[...] Johnson reiterated President Bush has acknowledged concern about climate change and provided a long list of actions he said the administration is taking to deal with the issue, short of regulating greenhouse gases.

“What is the most serious environmental hazard that we face,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked, seeking an acknowledgment of risks of climate change.

“I don’t see one being most serious,” replied Johnson, a career scientist at the EPA before being named administrator in early 2005.

Whitehouse asked the question again. And Johnson again wouldn’t be pinned down.

“You astonish me,” Whitehouse snapped. [full text]

Bordering on the Ludicrous: Part II

A couple of months ago, I posted an article here that called attention to a disturbing trend at the U.S.-Canadian border, whereby some travelers were being denied entry for the most frivolous of reasons, such as decades-old recreational drug use. Though this practice seems to do little to enhance national security and appears utterly devoid of common sense, it remains in force, as documented recently by Linda Solomon in the Canadian newspaper, The Tyee:

LSD as Therapy? Write about It, Get Barred from US

Andrew Feldmar, a well-known Vancouver psychotherapist, rolled up to the Blaine border crossing last summer as he had hundreds of times in his career. At 66, his gray hair, neat beard, and rimless glasses give him the look of a seasoned intellectual. He handed his passport to the U.S. border guard and relaxed, thinking he would soon be with an old friend in Seattle. The border guard turned to his computer and googled “Andrew Feldmar.”

The psychotherapist’s world was about to turn upside down.

Born in Hungary to Jewish parents as the Nazis were rising to power, Feldmar was hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust when he was three years old, after his parents were condemned to Auschwitz. Miraculously, his parents both returned alive and in 1945 Hungary was liberated by the Russian army. Feldmar escaped from communist Hungary in 1956 when he was 16 and immigrated to Canada. He has been married to Meredith Feldmar, an artist, for 37 years, and they live in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. They have two children, Soma, 33, who lives in Denver, and Marcel, 36, a resident of L.A. Highly respected in his field, Feldmar has been travelling to the U.S. for work and to see his family five or six times a year. He has worked for the UN, in Sarajevo and in Minsk with Chernobyl victims.

The Blaine border guard explained that Feldmar had been pulled out of the line as part of a random search. He seemed friendly, even as he took away Feldmar’s passport and car keys. While the contents of his car were being searched, Feldmar and the officer talked. He asked Feldmar what profession he was in.

When Feldmar said he was psychologist, the official typed his name into his Internet search engine. Before long the customs guard was engrossed in an article Feldmar had published in the spring 2001 issue of the journal Janus Head. The article concerned an acid trip Feldmar had taken in London, Ontario, and another in London, England, almost forty years ago. It also alluded to the fact that he had used hallucinogenics as a “path” to understanding self and that in certain cases, he reflected, it could “be preferable to psychiatry.” Everything seemed to collapse around him, as a quiet day crossing the border began to turn into a nightmare.

Fingerprints for FBI

He was told to sit down on a folding chair and for hours he wondered where this was going. He checked his watch and thought hopelessly of his friend who was about to land at the Seattle airport. Three hours later, the official motioned him into a small, barren room with an American flag. He was sitting on one side and Feldmar was on the other. The official said that under the Homeland Security Act, Feldmar was being denied entry due to “narcotics” use. LSD is not a narcotic substance, Feldmar tried to explain, but an entheogen. The guard wasn’t interested in technicalities. He asked for a statement from Feldmar admitting to having used LSD and he fingerprinted Feldmar for an FBI file.

Then Feldmar disbelievingly listened as he learned that he was being barred from ever entering the United States again. The officer told him he could apply to the Department of Homeland Security for a waiver, if he wished, and gave him a package, with the forms.

The border guard then escorted him to his car and made sure he did a U-turn and went back to Canada. [full text]

Reign Man Fails to Protect

“My biggest job is to protect the American people.” ~George W. Bush

The President is fond of summarizing his job description. On numerous occasions during his reign of error, he has felt the need to announce the perceived raison d’être of his employment. When he does so, he bears a striking resemblance to Raymond Babbitt, the autistic character from the movie Rain Man. (“I’m an excellent driver.” “Gotta get my boxer shorts at K-Mart.” “Ten minutes to Wapner.”) The reality, of course, is that the President’s job is, first and foremost, to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” However, since Mr. Bush would generally rather not adhere to his oath of office, he prefers to emphasize his role as protector-in-chief. Unfortunately, he is about as adept at protecting as Raymond Babbitt was at driving—as the following New York Times article illustrates:

OSHA Leaves Worker Safety in Hands of Industry

Seven years ago, a Missouri doctor discovered a troubling pattern at a microwave popcorn plant in the town of Jasper. After an additive was modified to produce a more buttery taste, nine workers came down with a rare, life-threatening disease that was ravaging their lungs.

Puzzled Missouri health authorities turned to two federal agencies in Washington. Scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which investigates the causes of workplace health problems, moved quickly to examine patients, inspect factories and run tests. Within months, they concluded that the workers became ill after exposure to diacetyl, a food-flavoring agent.

But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, charged with overseeing workplace safety, reacted with far less urgency. It did not step up plant inspections or mandate safety standards for businesses, even as more workers became ill.

On Tuesday, the top official at the agency told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing that it would prepare a safety bulletin and plan to inspect a few dozen of the thousands of food plants that use the additive.

That response reflects OSHA’s practices under the Bush administration, which vowed to limit new rules and roll back what it considered cumbersome regulations that imposed unnecessary costs on businesses and consumers. Across Washington, political appointees — often former officials of the industries they now oversee — have eased regulations or weakened enforcement of rules on issues like driving hours for truckers, logging in forests and corporate mergers.

Since George W. Bush became president, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in its history, public health experts say. It has imposed only one major safety rule. The only significant health standard it issued was ordered by a federal court.

The agency has killed dozens of existing and proposed regulations and delayed adopting others. For example, OSHA has repeatedly identified silica dust, which can cause lung cancer, and construction site noise as health hazards that warrant new safeguards for nearly three million workers, but it has yet to require them.

“The people at OSHA have no interest in running a regulatory agency,� said Dr. David Michaels, an occupational health expert at George Washington University who has written extensively about workplace safety. “If they ever knew how to issue regulations, they’ve forgotten. The concern about protecting workers has gone out the window.� [full text]

Looking a 500 Million Dollar Gift Horse in the Mouth

The NewStandard has an excellent article by Michelle Chen on the many dimensions to the Berkeley-BP 500 million dollar deal. (See previous post for more detail.) On the whole, I think this is a good thing for environmental science. I guess that’s because I’m an optimist, and I think corporations will eventually need to take responsibility for the cost of environmental research. But one critic questions why, if BP cares about funding research, they do not give the money to the National Science Foundation or some other entity that can distribute it where it is needed. From the article:

[...]But Professor [Ignacio] Chapela said there is a precedent for public financing of crucial research. If the industry were genuinely concerned about the environmental consequences of its actions, he said, it would simply hand funding to a public agency less burdened by corporate influence. BP could follow the model of the federally chartered National Science Foundation and “put this money into a fund for the legislature to actually distribute to the places where it’s necessary.”

Opponents of the partnership say BP’s history of “greenwashing” its damaging practices – from intense oil drilling in northern Alaska to last year’s massive spill at Prudhoe Bay – should be reason enough to reject the deal. BP’s track record has doubly outraged environmentalists, as it has overlapped with its “Beyond Petroleum” media campaign, touting supposedly eco-friendly corporate initiatives.

Some critics of oil corporations say that for all the hype surrounding university partnerships, the industry has shown little interest in seriously investing in research. The five major oil companies devoted less than 2 percent of total cash flows to research and development activities in 2004, according to an analysis commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute.

Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said corporations with a financial stake in research could act as gatekeepers instead of stewards for the alternative-energy sector.

“These are oil companies; they get the vast majority of their revenue from oil,” he said. [full text]

Union Crossing Guards: Back to Work

It appears that a decision of the Department of Labor is reinstalling the crossing guards union in Cranston, and once again, we the citizens are the last to hear about it. And not only us, but the city council as well was reportedly unaware that this decision had been handed down, and that the clock was ticking for when it would be final. The full .pdf of the 23-page decision is here. I’ll cut to the chase:

1) The Employer’s Motion to Amend its Answer to include an affirmative defense is hereby granted.
2) To the extent that the Employer still provides crossing guard services as a
service to its taxpayers, the Employer is hereby ordered to negotiate with the Union relative to the terms and conditions of employment for employees providing the bargaining unit work of Crossing Guard services for the upcoming school year.

This was decreed on 3/26/07, with 30 days in which parties could file a complaint. So that leaves 48 hours for the city to get that complaint in, and apparently the city council was just made aware of this last night. Hmmm. Do you think this issue could have been raised a little sooner? Don’t you think that after this was the headlining story of Steve Laffey’s claim to fame, that people would want to know that the crossing guards are back and we have to deal with the issue all over again?

Linkin’ Log (for 04-24-07)

• A forgotten soldier—Think Progress passes along news and a video clip from an ABC report on an Iraq War veteran who “developed symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD during combat” and was eventually “sent to Walter Reed hospital, where he was neglected and eventually hung himself with a bed sheet in his room.”

• Treating the Awkward Years—An interesting story in the New York Times on the field of adolescent medicine, which remains “the wallflower at the subspecialty ball” despite a critical need for such services.

• Posing as pals, drug reps sway doctors’ choices—Reuters reports on a pair of recent studies which suggest that “subtle attention from friendly drug sales representatives can have a big impact on what drugs [physicians] prescribe.”

• Britain’s Gun Laws Seen as Curbing Attacks—The Washington Post reports on how Britain and the U.S. are separated not just by an ocean but by prevailing attitudes and regulations on the ownership of firearms.


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