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Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Cinderella Man Vs. Social Security Privatization

Will Ron Howard's new film Cinderella Man help deliver a KO to Bush's Social Security privatization scam? It's easy to read too much into Hollywood's influence on our politics, but this movie comes out just as it's becoming clear that, as a recent memo by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg put it, "Social Security is a disaster for the President."

In Cinderella Man, which opens June 3, Russell Crowe plays James Braddock Jr., the contender from North Bergen, New Jersey, who breaks his hand and slides into boxing oblivion--and onto the welfare rolls--only to make the unlikeliest of comebacks at the height of the Great Depression, culminating in a June 1935 fight with Max Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world.

How does all of this affect the current debate about the future of Social Security? By depicting the beneficial effects of welfare during the Depression, the film subtly underscores the importance of preserving what was a cornerstone of the New Deal.

"I've always been fascinated by the Depression," Howard said in a recent interview with the New York Times. (While in high school, Howard made a documentary about the Depression, interviewing his father and others and using old photographs.)

In Cinderella Man, Howard says, "I wanted to remind people that the working poor existed then, and we have it today. While the economy is mostly up and then sometimes down--the Internet bubble bursting felt a bit like '29, where people had overextended and fallen into that trap again--we're anxious. Our population is anxious. We're not in a depression, thank God, but I think it's crossing our minds that something could happen, things could change and not for the better, for the worse."

Will Russell Crowe KO Bush's shameless scam to shred America's most successful antipoverty program? Here's hoping that his blows, added to the thousands inflicted by tireless organizers and ordinary citizens, successfully expose this rip-off.

Bloggers of Iran

Did you know that on the eve of the Iranian presidential election, that country--with 70 percent of its population under 30--has 75,000 bloggers? I find that pretty stunning--and I'm usually skeptical of blog-hype.

Blogging has gone international in a big way. And in Iran, blogging means that news, ideas and rumors are bypassing traditional censors. As one of Iran's leading bloggers recently pointed out at opendemocracy.net, Iran's blogs are generating "an unprecedented amount of information [and] pre-election news has...been much more transparent." In fact, Hossein Derakhshan argued, " it will probably be one of the most open and transparent elections Iran has ever seen."

The internet is playing a major role. This is the first time, for example, that most of the major candidates (except the oldest ones) have their own websites. And with an estimated three or four million internet users in Iran, blogs are opening up Iranian society and culture--despite the enduring threat of government censorship and imprisonment of journalists and activists.

As New America Foundation fellow Afshin Molavi observes, "Most Iranian blogs offer a space to tell jokes, share music files and photos, satirically lampoon Iranian rulers with clever photo-shop doctoring, and generally share personal experiences. The political blogs have a power beyond their small readership because of the reverberation effect: when they break a story or simply spread a juicy rumor, it is immediately emailed to hundreds of thousands of wired Iranians and filtered to the non-wired Iranians through word-of-mouth." (Even a former Vice-President, Mohammad Abtahi, angered many officials for spilling too many secrets in his blog.)

So, for those of you who want to diversify your daily news-feed, here's my list of ten blogs that offer an unprecedented window on Iran's political culture, while helping to open up and make that society more accountable.

1) Hoder.com: Molavi says Hoder is "the godfather of blogging in Iran"; he has a wide following, and numerous Iranian bloggers link to Hoder's blogspot. Hoder's real name is Hossein Derakhshan; his blog, which he calls "Editor: Myself," comes via Toronto, where the Tehran-born Derakhshan now makes his home. He offers observations on the June election and said in a recent email interview that blogs have "given much more transparency to how campaigns operate." And blogs also, says Hoder, have "enabled the campaigns to reach out to a network of educated and influential young students who make up the majority of the blogging community."

2) Massih Alinejad was a reporter for Iranian reformist newspapers, but when she exposed financial corruption in Iran's Parliament, higher-ups banned her from entering the building and she could no longer do her job. She was, the government said, acting "rude and intrusive." So, she started a blog.

3) Mr. Behi, a 27-year-old Tehran-based political blogger, captures the reservations many Iranians have about the political process. Behi's blog recently told us that he "enthusiastically voted for [reformist candidate] Khatami" in the 1997 elections because he and other Iranians believed "Khatami's great promises for a better society." But these promises never panned out. He now says, "casting my vote will not change anything." But his pessimism is tempered by hope, as when he explains that during a recent bloggers' forum with reformer and presidential hopeful Mostafa Moin, the bloggers asked so many pointed questions "that I thought maybe I am not in the Islamic Republic!"

4) Indeed, Moin, whose blog is in Persian, is a leading reformer who has supported the student movement. He's not the only candidate to understand the power of going on-line--though he may be the only one who personally updates his blog every day. (The Guardian Council, which clears candidates to run for office, recently barred Moin from appearing on the ballot.)

5) Brooding Persian provides background and history on Iranian politics. In one recent entry, Brooding Persian writes that the June election has "1,010 potential candidates, 921 men and 89 women." Brooding Persian offer many articles about the election and breakdowns of voting patterns in recent years, mixing well-written prose with sharp, ironic observations. An example: "Here in this heartland of evil at the tender age of 15 you can just walk into any station and vote as you please."

6) Written by journalist Omid Memarian, The Iranian Prospect examines democracy, civil society and social issues including the ways in which Iran's regime represses the media. The government, the site informs us, has recently "arrested and tortured more than 21 journalists, bloggers and IT technicians" and it has closed down more than 80 magazines and newspapers.

7) Shahram Kholdi's blog paints an Iranian Constitutional referendum as "a debate over the constitutional legitimacy of the Islamic Republic itself." Kholdi says that former President Rafsanjani will likely prevail in the June election, but also points out that Iranians are so disillusioned that many will stay away from the polls, especially those living in the nation's largest cities.

8) Iran Votes 2005, written by Windsteed, 29, describes the Guardian Council as a kind of "filter" that must first approve a candidate before he or she can become an official candidate for president. We also learn on this site that a former soccer star and coach, Nasser Hejazi, is trying to seek the presidency. Windsteed, like a lot of the bloggers, echoes the point that a "calm mood" in the country indicates a "lack of trust or interest in the candidates" and in the prospects for democratic change in Iran anytime soon.

9) Iranian.com. Among other cultural and political items, you'll find a good interview with the presidential candidate Hooshang Amirahmadi who also directs the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. Amirahmadi predicts that if the elections "do not generate enthusiasm or produce an acceptable president, Washington most likely will adopt a policy of explicit regime change. If this happens, the 'Iraqicization' of Iran will begin."

10) IranianTruth.com, edited by Nema Milaninia, the executive director of the International Students Journal, discusses, among many topics, the relationship between the United States and Iran. Milaninia calls attention to efforts in the US House to tighten sanctions against Iran, predicting that such legislative efforts will ultimately backfire. She reflects a widespread view that ordinary Iranians will feel alienated and says the moves will fail to "back the Iranian regime against the wall."

Finally, at Iran Scan 1384, a new kind of meta-blog set up by opendemocracy.net, you'll also find Hoder and Milaninia and other leading students of Iranian politics discussing the June presidential election.

As Iran Scan and all of the other individual blogs remind us, while Iran remains a closed society, a fierce debate about the country's future is underway in the blogosphere. The coming election might not bring about much, if any, change in Iranians' lives, but the blogs could help open up that society, permitting the free flow of information and ideas like never before.

Sweet Victory: Electoral Reform is On the March

Electoral reform is on the march. Burlington, Vermont, the state's biggest city, recently adopted instant runoff voting for its 2006 mayoral elections. On May 18th, Portland, Oregon became the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections. And last week in Canada, a majority of voters opted for proportional voting in an important symbolic victory that could eventually lead to more voices and more choices in future elections.

In a referendum coinciding with British Columbia's parliamentary elections, 57.4 percent of a record turnout of 1.6 million chose to replace Canada's US-style, winner-take-all voting system with a method of proportional voting known as the "single transferable vote" (STV). Under this plan, voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference, empowering minorities and breaking up the monopoly of entrenched political parties. "This was not generally a vote of ideology," says Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy. "This was a vote for a better, fairer democracy that people in all parties could rally around."

Although the STV drive fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage, the measure won a majority of votes in 97 percent of the province's districts. In the wake of these results, Premier Gordon Campbell immediately declared that reforming the electoral system should be a top priority for the newly elected Parliament. "The citizens have been very clear," said Campbell. "There's a pretty strong mandate for electoral reform to take place…a hunger to see improvement."

The STV system is one of many ways we could make the US electoral process fairer. If you're concerned about the state of our electoral system, check out the Center for Voting and Democracy to see how you can help defeat the moneyed duopoly impeding our democracy.

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

M.A.D. About You

When the Republicans thought they were going to win the filibuster fight, they tried to change the term of art from "nuclear option" to "constitutional option." The GOP's lexicographer-in-chief, Frank Luntz, argued that "the implication of 'nuclear option' is way too hot and extreme." Even Trent Lott, showing a surprising lack of authorial pride, took up the new phrase, despite the fact that he personally had coined the old one.

But the far rights' reaction to the compromise between fourteen moderate Senators demonstrates how much they view the struggle over the judiciary in violent terms. Out went the soothing references to founding principles; in came the militaristic metaphors. Pat Buchanan referred to the agreement as "the Munich of the Republican Party," conflating the importance of a handful of conservative judges with that of Czechoslovakia.

Senator George Allen went even farther on Imus. The "constitutional option" was needed, in his words, "to set the rules of engagement." He said that it was "kind of like everyone was lined up for a duel, and they determined three of these hostages can go loose, and we'll discharge our pistols on two of these judicial nominees." According to him, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid wanted some "scalps" and gave the Republicans the choice of which one of their"troops" they were going to "take down."

Let's see: duels, hostages, scalps, troops, Munich, rules of engagement--no, it's obvious that "nuclear option" captures the far right's intentions. They clearly have learned to love the bomb.

Cowboy Cheers

Flouting the fact that Pat Robertson thinks the "activist" (Republican-sponsored and approved) judiciary is the worst threat America faces, the moralistic majority in the Texas legislature has decided that sexy cheerleading is our nation's undoing.

Forget the fact that it was the state of Texas that made sexy cheerleading part of our national cultural life. (This state, which wanted to be an independent nation, has also given us the execution of women and the mentally handicapped, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush.)

Of course, youthful female sexuality will always be a threat to the good ole boys. But my favorite part of this legislation is that it requires every school district to hire a sexy cheerleading commissar to enforce the proposed prohibition of "overtly sexually suggestive" cheerleading routines. (They won't be condemning James Joyce's Ulysses, but the principle of we-know-it-when-we-see-it has expanded.) Big government conservatism at your service.

As we fight fundamentalism abroad, it is crucial to know that we are fighting it here at home. What is next for the cheerleaders of Texas? Burkas?

Wal-Mart Avarice

Kudos to veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer for lambasting the New York Times for its "paean" to Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton, and taking aim at Wal-Mart's "systematic obliteration of thousands of family businesses and of course the creation of hundreds of thousands of sweatshop jobs."

Safer's letter (posted below) succintly captures the grand irony of Walton's recent $35 million purchase of a famous landscape painting. ("All that Wal-Mart money was gleaned from the systematic destruction of the very American landscape Ms. Walton so expensively celebrates.")

Here's hoping that Safer's hardhitting letter is the basis of a forthcoming 60 Minutes segment.

New York, May 14, 2005

To the Editor:

Your paean to Alice L. Walton, the Wal-Mart heir who recently purchased Asher B. Durand's landscape painting "Kindred Spirits" for $35 million ("A Determined Heiress Plots an Art Collection," Arts pages, May 14), ignored a grand inherent irony.

All that Wal-Mart money was gleaned from the systematic destruction of the very American landscape Ms. Walton so expensively celebrates. Not to mention the equally systematic obliteration of thousands of family businesses and of course the creation of hundreds of thousands of sweatshop jobs.

The robber barons of yore, through contrition or vanity, also established enduring cultural institutions, but surely in this age of alleged transparency, it behooves the newspaper of record to make at least passing reference to the human and environmental price we all pay to satisfy Ms. Walton's ambition.

Morley Safer

Sweet Victory: CPC Gets in Gear

If you don't know much about the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), you should. With 50-plus members, it's the single largest caucus in the House, and according to a study by Chris Bowers of MyDD, by far the most loyal to core Democratic values. 

At a time in which too many Dems have lost their way (read: spine), CPC members--from co-chairs Barbara Lee (CA) and Lynn Woolsey (CA) to outspoken figures like founder (and Senate hopeful) Bernie Sanders (VT), Dennis Kucinich (OH),  Jan Schakowsky (IL), John Conyers (MI), Maurice Hinchey (NY) and Barney Frank (MA)--continue to fight for working Americans, stand against the war, and discuss honorable ways out of Iraq. This week, Lee and Woolsey took a significant step towards strengthening the CPC, hiring grassroots organizer, former AFL-CIO staffer, and Capitol Hill veteran Bill Goold as its first full-time staffer. "There are a growing number of people who are getting involved with politics because they are drawn to the basic principles of fairness and justice that the Progressive Caucus has long represented in Congress," said Lee. "Adding a staff member of Bill's experience will allow the Progressive Caucus to more effectively continue our commitment to these principles."

Goold's arrival should ensure that the CPC builds on its great work to date. Here are some of highlights of the CPC's decade-long struggle for justice (thanks to Karen Dolan of the Institute for Policy Studies):

**The Annual Alternative State of the Union Address and the Alternative Budget, done jointly with the Congressional Black Caucus each year.

**The Preservation of Civil Rights Protections Act of 2001. This bill would protect workers' rights to a trial for alleged violations of their statutory and constitutional rights.

**Pushing the House Democratic caucus to adopt three key reforms improving unemployment insurance: increasing benefits by 25 percent or $65 per week, whichever is greater; broadening elgibility criteria to include part-time workers; and extending unemployment insurance benefits up to 52 weeks in case of long recessions.

**The "American People's Dividend" of 2001, a progressive alternative to Bush tax cuts when the federal budget was in surplus.

**The Economic Human Rights Bus Tour, in which Caucus members travel across the nation with grassroots organizations highlighting the adverse affects of budget priorities on rural and inner-city populations and people of color.

With Goold on board and several other unfolding plans to ramp up the CPC, expect this list to grow significantly in the coming months.

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

Annals of Outrage II

In January, I wrote my first Annals of Outrage weblog about the waste, fraud and abuse that the Bush Administration has perpetrated against the US taxpayer. But so much has happened in just the last three months--a cornucopia of corruption stemming, in large part, from the war in Iraq and the growing scandal that is Rumsfeld's Department of Defense--that I felt the time had arrived to do another top ten list of the most serious GAO and Inspector Generals' (IG) reports that have recently become available. It's a bracing series of studies, revealing the ever-widening scandals in this post-9-11, say-and-do-anything political environment. Happy Reading.

1) Halliburton Redux: The revelations seem to never stop when it comes to the Defense Department's favorite corporate client, Halliburton. In April, Henry Waxman released summaries of five reports in which the Defense Contract Audit Agency cited as questionable $212 million that Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root spent in Iraq under a no-bid contract. The money given to Halliburton by Defense was part of a $1.69 billion no-bid contract awarded the company. The auditors told the Army that it should withhold some of Halliburton's money. The Army refused. Halliburton continues to do its work and make millions in Iraq.

2) Democracy in the Middle East: Iraq is a "free-fraud zone." That's the description that a bravewhistleblower Frank Willis--who had served as a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq--called Iraq a few weeks ago. It's hard to know where to begin. The scope of the corruption beyond Halliburton is so widespread and endemic that multiple investigations by the government and non-governmental organizations are underway to see how much the fraud, waste and abuse have cost the US taxpayer. One corruption watchdog organization, Transparency International, reported in March that the US had completely mismanaged Iraq's oil revenues, used "faulty procedures for awarding reconstruction contracts," and that we were now potentially facing "the biggest corruption scandal in history."

In addition to all of the problems associated with Halliburton, our reconstruction efforts have also come under fire from IGs and the GAO because US officials failed to provide the proper training and oversight for private security firms doing contract work in Iraq. CACI International Inc., for instance, had an essentially free hand to conduct interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison. The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction Stuart Bowen reported as well that US officials have been unable to account for how nearly $100 million slated for Iraqi reconstruction projects had been spent. The IG is now investigating whether anyone in the US-led Development Fund for Iraq committed outright fraud.

3) Bagram Out-of-Control: According to reports written by the Army Criminal Investigation Command that Human Rights Watch obtained last month, the US military committed some of its worst prisoner abuses in Afghanistan. The reports reveal in new, horrifying details the extent to which American soldiers abused Afghan prisoners so severely that two detainees died at the Bagram Control Point where the military was holding them. ("The deaths took place nearly a year before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq," the New York Times reported.)

4) DOD's Fraud: In January, the GAO faulted the Department of Defense as the most-fraud prone agency within the federal government. David Walker, the Comptroller General of the GAO, said that DOD's repeated failures to curb waste and other abuses "results in billion of dollars in waste each year and inadequate accountability to the Congress and the American taxpayer." The DOD is asleep at the wheel in such areas as mismanaging finances and contracts, giving personnel security clearances, mismanaging military bases and failing to modernize its computer systems. A Defense Department spokeswoman responded to the GAO's findings by saying that "it's a little bit premature at this time for us to have a full response."

5) DOD's Fraud, Part 2: Nowhere, perhaps, has the DOD run into more trouble than in its lax procurement procedures. Boeing has been at the center of this storm. Former Defense Department official and Boeing executive Darleen Druyun went to jail because she did favors for Boeing while working in the procurement office of the Defense Department--and then got a plum job with Boeing as a reward. The government has launched a whopping 48 investigations because of the Druyun scandal, and the Druyun controversy also gave birth to the Procurement Fraud Working Group, a federal task force that investigates procurement fraud in the federal government. With John McCain and other members of Congress criticizing the DOD's procurement practices including its relationship with Boeing, the Army took the step of changing at least one Boeing contract and "the Air Force restructured a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. for C-130J transport planes," the Washington Post reported.

6) TSA's Egregious Spending: That's right. The agency responsible for protecting America's skies has its priorities all wrong. The Inspector General for the Dept. of Homeland Security reported in April that TSA has spent lavishly--to the tune of $500,000--buying artwork and silk plants for a TSA operations center whose mission is monitoring transportation security incidents. It's certainly not the first time that TSA has mismanaged taxpayer dollars. The agency--created by the Administration after the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks--wasted almost $500,000 on creating an office suite for its first leader, hosted a birthday party (for itself) and awards banquet costing another nearly half a million dollars, bought Sub-Zero refrigerators at $3,000 a pop, and spent thousands of dollars over three years to put cable television in employees' offices. TSA employees "ignored federal contracting rules and appeared to conceal their spending," the Washington Post explained, and a different IG report revealed that TSA is still failing to find guns and knives when tests were run at airport security checkpoints.

7) Mercury Politics: Nikki Tinsley, the EPA's Inspector General, disclosed in February that Administration officials had instructed the EPA's staff to set artificially low limits on mercury pollution and then find a way to justify a pre-determined policy. Doing the bidding of coal-burning power plants and other industries, the Administration, Tinsley courageously charged, dismissed scientific evidence and ignored the agency's procedures to reach a policy that allows more mercury into the environment, which has been shown to be especially harmful to children and pregnant women.

8) "The Jungle": In February, the GAO issued a groundbreaking report about the flaws in protecting workers employed by the meat and poultry industries. The GAO found, for instance, that while statistics in the numbers of injuries on the job appear to be declining, the industries might not be reporting these figures accurately, and that working at such plants remains hazardous work. No single federal agency monitors the line speed at the plants and protects workers from getting injured because of the pressures of production. The GAO and the Department of Health and Human Services encountered resistance from the big poultry and meatpacking companies in gaining access to their facilities.

9) DoJ's White-Collar Friends: In March, the GAO discovered that the Justice Department had failed to collect fines and other forms of restitution from white-collar criminals who were high-ranking corporate officials. (They went unnamed in the report because their cases are still pending.) While some of the criminals claimed to be wiped out--saying that they lacked the resources to pay the fines to the federal government--they were still luxuriating in million dollar homes. Some of the criminals had hidden their assets from the government. The Justice Department acted like it didn't care one way or the other. And the GAO also reported that two of the criminals in question traveled overseas while they were on supervised release--adding fuel to the fire that white-collar criminals are living large even as they avoid paying the fines the courts ordered them to pay. Only about seven percent of the $568 million in court-ordered restitution to crime victims has been collected, the GAO reported.

10) Do Tell: Also in February, the GAO reported that the cost of the government's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies amounted to nearly $200 million from 1994 to 2003. The costs involved the amount of money needed to recruit and train replacements including translators and other highly skilled troops for the men and women discharged under the Army's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Marty Meehan, the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, wants to pass legislation that will repeal the policy which forces soldiers out of the Armed Forces and causes the country to lose access to these talented people willing to serve.

In 2000, Bush vowed that he would restore "integrity" to the White House. No surprise, that hasn't happened. But at least these reports show there are federal investigators who--unlike many Administration officials--are willing to do the hard work to promote ethics in government.

Insurgents of Labor, Unite!

As I wrote in March, charismatic SEIU leader Andy Stern has been anything but shy about triggering the most far-reaching strategic debate in labor in more than a generation. And while I disagree with some of SEIU's argument about what is to be done, I admire Stern's call for dramatic structural changes, his openness to remake labor's traditional ties to the Democratic Party and create new institutions and alliances for working people. His sense of urgency, even desperation about the future of labor is admirable and welcome.

On Monday, SEIU--along with its insurgent allies, including the Teamsters, Laborers and UNITE HERE --issued an unprecedented joint statement of principles, "Restoring the American Dream: Building a 21st Century Labor Movement That Can Win." (Click below to find Andy Stern's blog, and then scroll to the end where he encourages you to read the unions' joint proposal.)

Together these unions represent 5.5 million members, and the majority of the major organizing unions in the private sector. (The UFCW was also involved in drafting the statement and will take it to their executive board meeting for endorsement; the proposal is also being discussed with the Carpenters Union.)

The joint plan, Stern is proud to report, has been sent to local unions--just another sign of how savvy SEIU and Stern have been in using the Internet to communicate with the rank and file.

I caught up with Stern in NY on Monday, where he was attending a Personal Democracy Forum conference on blogging and democracy. After doing one of his trademark podcasts, and on his way to meet with the NYT's Steven Greenhouse to lay out the AFL insurgents' latest salvo, Stern quipped, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get the locals to vote on this? Someday."

As veteran labor commentator Jonathan Tasini notes today in his blog, Working Life, "The main political point of this proposal--and the public comments of the insurgent leaders--is to express a no-confidence vote in the Sweeney leadership and turn up the hear for a change in leadership."

Fundamental change is needed, but I still despair of the consequences of a split in the House of Labor --which is under such fierce attack by the most anti-labor Administration in modern history. Can a compromise be found? One that will bring about a revival of the AFL, create a federation that can truly change workers' lives, and address the larger problem of how to revitalize a broader movement for economic democracy and social justice? I hope so.

We'll soon find out when labor gathers in Chicago this July.

Andy Stern's blog: www.unitetowinblog.org/print/2005/5/16/131154/400.

Sweet Victory: Cleaning Up the Cosmetics Industry

Each day, women and girls use an average of twelve personal careproducts, according to a study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "Users of these products might assumethat somebody is watching to insure that potentially toxic ingredientsare kept away from intimate contact with their body," Mark Schapirowrote in The Nation in December. "Theywould be wrong."

Thanks to a longstanding loophole, the FDA neither monitors norregulates ingredients used in cosmetics, many of which contain knownor probable carcinogens[http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/report/executive_summary.php].Yet, in the wake of mounting pressure from a coalition of publichealth and environmental groups, the American cosmetics industry isfinally cleaning up its act.

By Mother's Day, 116 personal care product manufacturers had signedthe Compact for Safe Cosmetics--agreeing to meet the standards set by the European Union's "Cosmetics Directive," which bans ingredients that are known or stronglysuspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation or birth defects. Click here for a full list of companies that have agreed to comply.

"[We are] thrilled about the growing interest in this campaign," says Janet Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Fund, one of the major groups behind the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, "These companies are setting an important precedent for the cosmetics industry by putting their reputations and their resources on the line to make truly safe cosmetics a reality for consumers."

Unfortunately, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is still waiting on industry giants L'Oréal, Revlon, and Estée Lauder--who have agreed to parts, but not the entirety, of the pledge. We look forward to the day when these and all other cosmetics companies agree to make lethal lipstick a thing of the past.

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