Friday, November 18, 2005

Values Based Behavior

We’ve been conditioned for a very long time to believe that what is good for corporate America is good for all of us, and despite mounting evidence that this isn’t so, we’re all still nodding and humming along. This week, a report shows that corporate America is so far behind in paying for employee pensions, that anyone who has one might as well forget about it. Our retirement system is about to collapse.

Our health care system is collapsing, too. Over 48 million Americans have no health insurance, and that number is on the rise. The number of uninsured children is increasing, too. The number of Americans living in poverty is also on the rise, despite the much touted economic recovery. Most people have lousy health insurance, and are scared to death that they’ll get sick. The Medicare prescription drug plan is going into effect, a wonderful program that will help insurance and drug companies add to their profit margins, while adding an extra monthly “user fee” to folks living on fixed incomes, many of whom are already making some difficult choices between food, rent, and medication.

The solutions being proposed to these situations are things like privatizing Social Security, cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, low income student loans, and school lunch programs. We hear a lot of talk from our friends in Washington about values – particularly family values – but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand how robbing seniors and taking food off the plates of schoolchildren can be considered values based behavior.

This past weekend, in Tamworth, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Eastern Slopes and The World Fellowship Center co-sponsored a screening of the new documentary that’s being shown across the country, and creating a buzz. The movie is called “Wal-Mart – The High Cost of Low Price.” Over 50 people attended the screening, and took place in the discussion that followed. Wal-Mart raked in $10 billion in profits last year. Their CEO, Lee Scott, received a bonus of $22 million – over his $1.5 million salary. They are the biggest employer in the world, and hugely successful. The chief reason for their success is the US taxpayer, who spends about $2.5 billion annually on federal assistance programs that Wal-Mart employees are eligible for. The cost of subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart is $210 million – and counting. The cost to NH taxpayers has been nearly $5 million so far. With $10 billion in profits, it seems to me that Wal-Mart shouldn’t be relying on taxpayers to pick up their tab.

The consensus among the movie viewers in Tamworth is that boycotting Wal-Mart will never make any difference. There are too many people who just plain can’t afford not to shop there – and Wal-Mart’s scorched earth policy has left few shopping alternatives in many places. It is possible, however, to influence corporate behavior. McDonald’s wraps their sandwiches in paper, due to a national outcry about the Styrofoam boxes they used to use. A continued outcry against the corporate welfare

Wal-Mart benefits so much from will hurt their image, and force them to change their behavior. The next time you hear DHHS Commissioner John Stephen complaining about Medicaid costs, be aware that in addition to Wal-Mart, some Dunkin Donuts, and Shaws employees are receiving Medicaid benefits in NH. Employees of the US Postal Service and the NH state government are, too.

The old saying “if we keep on doing what we always done, we’ll keep on getting what we always got” has never been truer. We’ve all been hurt by the high cost of gasoline, and we’re all approaching the winter with trepidation about the cost of heating our homes. Our elected officials are responding to this crisis by slipping a provision to drill in ANWR into the budget. Studies by the Dept. of Energy show that drilling in ANWR will reduce the cost of a gallon of gas by about one penny in 20 years. Clearly that’s not the solution to our energy gluttony. Conservation would go a long way – increasing the CAFÉ standards for US vehicles to 40 mpg would reduce our oil consumption by 6 million barrels of oil every day. Our national fuel economy is actually worse today than it was 20 years ago, yet we hear nothing of conservation. Instead, we have US automakers continuing to churn out SUVs and giant trucks as though we had an endless supply of oil. The foreign oil market will become increasingly tight as we compete with the growing energy needs of China. There’s no time like the present to begin modifying our behavior. It’s a sin that conservation doesn’t seem to be a part of our national values.

I was sorry to see that the town of Fryeburg chose not to purchase their water company. Once a private company owns the water company, one of the global water corporations can come in and buy the company – and sell Fryeburg water to the highest bidder. It may seem like good fiscal thinking at this point – but if Bechtel or Veolia comes along and purchases the private company – Fryeburg will not control its own water supply. More and more companies are buying up land to secure the water rights, so that the water can be sold. Water is essential to human life – and it is finite. We should all be thinking long and hard about protecting our water supplies. The cost may have seemed high to voters in Fryeburg – but the cost of not having water or having polluted water supplies will be much, much higher. As the selectmen work toward forming a new water district, they should remember that local control is of vital importance.

“Corporation, n., An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.” Ambrose Bierce

Thursday, November 03, 2005


The ancient Greek lyric poet Pindar wrote, “The noblest of the elements is water.” Water is essential to human life for nourishment and sanitation. We humans have taken water for granted, and contaminated many water supplies – and we are beginning to learn what that will cost us. The water wars will be even uglier than the oil wars.

A new coalition, the NH Water Table, sponsored a conference called “Protecting New Hampshire’s Water” last month in Manchester. The keynote speaker was Maude Barlow, who co-wrote the book, “Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water.” Ms. Barlow is from Canada, and is an expert on globalization, and the burgeoning world water crisis. It was well worth the long drive and the day’s investment to attend this conference. Small skirmishes in the water wars have already begun in our state – with the ongoing fight over the US Springs bottling plant in Nottingham, the fight about the Castle Springs bottling operation in Moultonborough, and of course the Poland Springs bottling operation in Fryeburg, ME. NH is fortunate in having a goodly supply of clean water, but we must act quickly to protect it.

The world is running out of fresh water. There are already countries in water crisis, including 22 African countries, and two-thirds of northern China. India and China have destroyed (by pollution) over 70 percent of their surface water. There is talk of moving the Chinese capital city, because of water – Beijing has serious water problems. Florida and the western US states are facing serious water problems. Barlow predicts that two-thirds of the world will have water shortages by 2025.

The large groundwater withdrawals for water bottling sales are exacerbating the problem.

Bottled water sales have skyrocketed in the last decade. Bottled water is being marketed as being superior to tap water, even though what’s in that bottle may be tap water sold to consumers as “fresh from a mountain spring” at a thousand times the cost of tap water. The bottled water industry is almost entirely unregulated, unlike municipal water supplies, where the water quality is monitored constantly. The idea is to create a suspicion of publicly owned water suppliers, and encourage the belief that bottled water is better and safer. A generation of kids is growing up with the belief that water is something you buy in a plastic bottle at the store. The bottled water companies are making obscene profits and creating obscene amounts of garbage. Every day over 30 million plastic water bottles are discarded. Only 1 in 10 makes it to recycling, the rest go into the landfill – where the chemicals in the plastic break down and contaminate the groundwater.....and the cycle continues.

The Poland Spring water bottling operation in Fryeburg has been a controversial topic now for some time. Fryeburg recently enacted a temporary ban on issuing permits for large scale groundwater extractions. It’s a smart move – given that most towns haven’t factored water extraction into their planning processes or town ordinances. That 6 month moratorium will give the town a chance to study the subject, and reflect seriously on water and the future. The towns on the NH side of the border should be watching this issue, and planning in their own communities.

Poland Spring is owned by the Nestle Corporation, a company with a long, disgusting record of violating human rights around the world. Nestle earns over $4 billion a year selling baby formula. They aggressively market their bottle feeding formulas as superior to breast milk in third world countries. Often they give out free samples to new mothers in the hospital. The mothers leave the hospital, with their own milk dried up, and are now forced to buy the formula and mix it with water, and in many cases that water supply is contaminated. A recent independent audit of NestlĂ©’s conduct in Pakistan found 3 violations of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) code for marketing breast milk substitutes. They found 2 examples of Nestle delegates offering financial or material inducements to a health professional, which is prohibited by the WHO. Nestle also owns Perrier, and San Pellegrino, and a number of smaller US water bottling companies.

Castle Springs Bottled Water Company was a small, locally owned operation in Moultonborough. Two years ago, it was purchased by Crystal Geyser Roxanne, a California firm that put 2 new boreholes deep into the aquifer, and is currently bottling 3 million gallons of water a month. Castle Springs had been granted a special exception to operate in a rural-residential-agricultural zone. Crystal Geyser Roxanne has increased the truck traffic five-fold, since they took over. The residents of Moultonborough are extremely concerned about the massive water withdrawals and the increase in truck activity. Another area of concern is for the potential contamination. The large scale water withdrawals can contaminate the water source.

Something else for towns and states to consider is that trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA provide foreign countries the opportunity to sue if we create “barriers to trade.” In other words, if a town attempts to pull out of a water deal with a CAFTA country, they can sue for the loss of their profits. Our NH Congressional delegation all voted for CAFTA, by the way. Welcome to the wonderful world of globalization.

Water – we need to act now to protect it. The Alliance for Democracy (www. has a wealth of information at their site. The NH group Save Our Groundwater (www.saveourgroundwater) is an excellent resource. Join the NH Water Table coalition, at can also order the documentary “Thirst” to learn about communities all over the world who are resisting the privatization of their water, and water services. It’s available at, and is discounted to community organizations.

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Thomas Fuller