Jerry Brown Speaks Out

on Corporate Power



In a special session of the California Legislature-by a vote of 8 to 4 after less than an hour of debate-the Policy Committee extended the exemption for a substance called methyl bromide. This is the first time that a governor of California has ever called a special session so that poison may continue to be applied in the state. This vote will have implications for untold numbers of people.

Most importantly, notice the power of the Ethyl Corporation, the Great Lakes Chemical Corporation, the two principal corporations supplying this poison. Look at their power over a governor, over a legislature. This is a juggernaut. Fifteen million pounds of methyl bromide are used in California-a big piece of ozone depletion. These are real matters for a free people to deal with.

Methyl bromide is a colorless, odorless gas, a very deadly neurotoxin developed as a weapon during World War II. After the war, the good scientists at the University of California figured out a way to use it to kill bugs instead of "enemies." It's used as a fumigant to clear the soil and destroy living matter that would interfere with the production of a particular crop. But it has other consequences for the applicator injecting the gas into the ground in fields for grapes, for walnuts, for strawberries, for cut flowers and it has consequences for people living nearby, and for the 800+ schools in California, elementary and licensed daycare centers, within roughly a mile where methyl bromide is injected into the soil The consequences can be FATAL!

Here's how this chemical affects you. It can affect your health if you live near one of these fields. It can affect you if it's used to fumigate your house because it's still used for that purpose. And it can affect you because it's one of the most serious of ozone depleters. The size of ozone depletion is significant, is growing, which means more ultraviolet radiation. The United States is responsible for 40% of methyl bromide used worldwide, so we are definite contributors to this depletion of the ozone layer. The state of California-the strawberry growers, some of the grape growers and the cut flower industry- is responsible for about 25 % of the United States' contribution of methyl bromide to the rest of the world. We're not talking about something trivial. Ozone depletion kills people. It causes cancer; it causes consequential disruptions to the global environment and the food chain. It is so shocking and so threatening that over a hundred nations of the world came together in Montreal and signed a treaty to ban methyl bromide in order to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. A couple of years later, because they did not think it was tough enough, they even tightened it. This is a success story. The chlorofluorocarbons are being cut back. Methyl bromide, one of these ozone depleting gases, is supposed to be phased out after the year 2000.

The people producing this poison don't worry about the consequences. They've got a strawberry crop; they've got an almond crop; they've got some grapes to get out, they've got some cut flowers to put into the export market, they've got to sell strawberries in Tokyo, so never mind that some farm workers can be killed or some little children can be permanently brain-damaged, or that melanoma is one of the fastest rising cancers not only in Australia but right here in North America.

How is this danger treated? First of all, the context is in the political arena. The pesticide makers and their allies have given over $400,000 in the last three years to the state legislature in California, about $100,000 to Governor Pete Wilson, so that's already the conflict, the bias. These are not judges; these are not human beings acting as thoughtful sensitive people very much engaged with the consequences. They are going to buy an extension for another year and a half. The lower house in California is controlled by the Republicans and the bill will pass with virtually no notice, no discussion, yet they're talking about lives; they're talking about the ozone layer, the global environment affecting a lot of people. There's a lot of fund-raising potential around this. They will follow orders and deliver enough votes for a bipartisan commitment to environmental destruction and an assault on human health, innocent children, school yards, homes-places where real people are affected. They don't give a damn!

This is not a new issue. Back in 1984, a law was passed by the State of California, signed by a conservative governor, that was aimed at preventing birth defects and required certain toxicological tests to be undertaken regarding various chemicals and pesticides. By 1991 the Great Lakes Chemical Company and the Ethyl Corporation secured another extension to do more tests. That extension expires in March of this year. They're not doing the tests because they know those tests won't turn out pretty. The United States government has labeled methyl bromide as a Class I neurotoxin. It doesn't get any more lethal than that. We are not talking trivialities here. Ozone depletion kills people, it causes cancer, untold consequential disruptions of the food chain and the global environment.

What I see here is that these corporations aim first to take on California-that had the earliest phase-out of this ozone depleting gas-and postpone it so it never really becomes a prohibition. What action can you take? You don't have to buy strawberries. You don't have to buy almonds. You don't have to buy cut flowers. Forget the vote-these characters are bought and paid for-but your dollar is still in your pocket until you exchange it for almonds or grapes or strawberries. You can make a difference! There are alternatives. There are organic strawberry growers, organic grape growers and there are pesticides that are far less harmful than methyl bromide. There is where we have power as consumers.

Each one of us can go to the grocery store today or tomorrow and say, " What's on this stuff? Where does it come from?" Maybe you just concentrate on strawberries. They seem to be the big offender. There is power! Put up a little pressure. Go organic for a while. The road to political mobilization is through your buying behavior. If we can make an impact there, start putting pressure, we will change things. If enough complaints went into Lucky and Safeway and the local grocery store, these farmers would switch real fast.

Here's a rundown on where methyl bromide is used: 25% goes for strawberries, 12% for cut flowers, 10% for grapes, 7% for almonds, and 7% for sweet potatoes. Germany has banned this stuff. They grow a lot of strawberries. Holland grows a lot of cut flowers, probably the world's biggest exporter. They banned methyl bromide To me, this is a litmus test. If we can't handle our responsibility in something this easy, how are we going to deal with the larger issues affecting the environment? At worst, you're talking about a slight reduction in strawberry consumption, in almond consumption, in the sale of cut flowers, and some of this stuff is only needed to fumigate for export, to get those strawberries over to Tokyo or Hong Kong. This is a matter of survival to the farm worker, to the child living near the fields. That raises the subject of the food co-op that we are working to create here in the Oakland/Berkeley area. My vision of the co-op is that we make alliances with specific farmers. It's a matter of being conscious of the food we eat and purchase, of knowing the farmers, knowing the conditions, knowing where it comes from, all collaborating together and being responsible for how we are in the world.

The powers that be are conspiring against sustained-environment thinking, analysis, and mobilized response. That is what I call the death of democracy. Can we, as a species, as human beings, develop the consciousness of our impact on those closest to us, on the larger environment itself? Our power to impact has never been greater and yet our consciousness of that impact is very puny. That is the gap that has to be closed-the wisdom gap. It is only out of that insight and awareness that we will be able to live in a sustainable, harmonious, moral, spiritual way and that's the question this story of methyl bromide raises. It's not just one chemical. It's a whole way of life.

The nature of the corporation, under American law, is to make money for the owners, irrespective of the impact on the employee, the community, or the environment. That's the problem. The corporations, the law firms fronting for them, the politicians they buy have progressively undermined responsive legislation. The Republican Contract on America and Newt Gingrich and the whole effort to weaken the Clean Air Act, to weaken the Delaney Clause prohibiting cancer causing chemicals in our food, to weaken the Safe Drinking Water Act, to undermine the right to sue a corporation-this effort recognizes and responds to corporate pay-offs to your state, local and federal politicians. And that Behemoth, that monster, that virus, is incompatible with a healthy body politic or a free America. You've got to see through it if we're going to save ourselves, our souls and our country.

Welcome to the New World Order. Right here at home there was a real milestone. The World Trade Organization issued an order that parts of the Clean Air Act that were enacted by the Congress and signed by the President into law must be changed to suit the dirty processes and products that will be derived from imports from Venezuela, Brazil and other member countries. The WTO was created under the pet program of George Bush and Bill Clinton, namely GATT, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs. The World Trade Organization is part of the mechanism, the bureaucratic structure, of GATT.

Have you ever heard-since the war of l812-of a foreign power dictating to the United States? That just happened! The sovereignty of America has just been eroded in plain daylight by Clinton and the Congress, who take an oath to the Constitution. Those criminals continue to destroy this country and the world itself. I know that's strong, but I don't exaggerate. Here is what Clinton said in September of 1994: "We need to pass GATT as quickly as we can. The American people will be a winner. It will create hundreds of thousands of high paying jobs over the next decade." The highest good now-higher than religion, the family, the environment, and wage standards-is THE MOVEMENT OF STUFF across international boundaries.

Sylvia Nassar's column in the December l993 New York Times, was headlined: "GATT's Big Payoff for the U.S.: The Third World Promises to Become a Much Larger Trading Partner." She writes: "The most long lasting benefit for the U.S. . . . may be to encourage growth in many of the world's poor but aspiring nations. That, contrary to the dire warnings of America's new isolationists like Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot, would be good for most Americans too, say most economists who focus on free trade and growth." I am not going to deconstruct that language, but note the qualifiers in almost every phrase! Then she goes on to quote Paul Krugman: "It is true that successful Third World economies are competitors, but they also become bigger markets for our products, and they are also suppliers of better and cheaper product to our economy."

Notice the claim: the big payoff from GATT is going to help these poor people. They are pandering and appealing to your liberal guilt if you are in that privileged position of a lawyer or a professional embedded into the service structure not yet challenged by foreign competition and cheaper labor. All those poor people are going to be benefited by GATT! It is not just more autos to Japan; it's more jobs in Indonesia, Mexico, China, in the maquiladoras; it's laborers in Poland and Eastern Europe working for a couple of bucks a day in crummy factories to replace that bloated American workforce that has medical benefits and pensions and other forms of decency that have rigidified the American labor market. Yes, this is a double pay-off: first, the economy of Americans and then the poor people around the world. Notice, the claim that these people supply better and cheaper products-that is the benefit. Do you hear that? The Third World countries become bigger markets for our products, and they are suppliers of better and cheaper products to our economy. So why not just move all of America's business off-shore? We finally got to the New World Order! The continuing drift toward tearing up the environment, tearing up the Constitution, and increasing inequality is a direct consequence of the leadership pattern that both parties are now engaging in. Do you believe Clinton lied and Mickey Kantor lied and Bob Dole lied and the others that voted for GATT lied when they said this law cannot invade or diminish our sovereignty? If that is true, how come this foreign body, the WTO, is able to order the Congress that represents us, "WE, THE PEOPLE," to do something that we didn't tell the Congress to do?

It is not the end. It is the beginning. A new waiver allows Mexican truckdrivers to drive their uninspected trucks all the way to the Oregon border, and they are making a couple of bucks an hour. Watch out, American truck drivers: You have just been sold out. You have been sold out by Feinstein and Boxer and all the others that undercut you by voting for these large schemes with this fuzzy internationalist feeling to them. You can drive across the border now, and maquiladoras are popping up all along the border contrary to Mickey Kantor's promise that NAFTA would put jobs all over Mexico and hire people within the heartland of Mexico so they wouldn't have to come to the border for employment. I am not only for sovereignty in the United States-I want to see some sovereignty in California locally. If I don't want a nuclear power plant, I can say no. If I don't want a toxic dump in a Chicano neighborhood, I can say no. This whole dogma which says there shall be no trade barriers is all part of a multinational corporate hegemony which is incompatible with human rights, decentralized community, creativity, and a sustainable environment.


Material for this article was excerpted and edited by Doret Kollerer, with permission, from Jerry Brown's "We The People" radio broadcasts.

Jerry Brown broadcasts live on non-commercial radio FM (Pacific Standard Time: 4-5 p.m., M-F, KPFA, Berkeley, 94.1, & KFCF, Central Valley, 88.1; Eastern Standard Time:7-8 p.m., New York, WBAI, 99.5).

Contact "We The People" in Oakland, 1-800-426-1112, or 200 Harrison St., Oakland, CA 94607 for more information or to join We The People.


Copyright 1996, We The People Organization