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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #923 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Thursday, September 06, 2007printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Some Food Additives Raise Hyperactivity, Study Finds
The new, carefully controlled study shows that some artificial food additives increase hyperactivity and decrease attention span in a wide range of children.
Toxic Cocktail
Living in a chemical soup is an inescapable side effect of modern life. The question is: is it doing us any harm? "There are good reasons to think that it might be. Not because of the action of any one chemical but because of the way the effects of different components combine once they are inside the body."
Business Group Says Climate Change Requires a Revolution
"How do you change society in a radical way in a democracy so the people you want to vote for you are also going to suffer the consequences of the policies that you put in place. I don't think we've seen that kind of a challenge in societal change happening peacefully. It's [only] happened in revolutions."
Grasslands Are Losing Ground
Experiments show fringed sage and other woody shrubs, which cattle won't eat, displace other plants as the climate changes.
Seeking Willie Horton
In a moment of candor, the New York Times acknowledges that the Republican electoral strategy has been based on fomenting and exploiting racism: "The people who run the G.O.P. are concerned, above all, with making America safe for the rich.... But right-wing economic ideology has never been a vote-winner. Instead, the party's electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity."

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From: New York Times
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SOME FOOD ADDITIVES RAISE HYPERACTIVITY, STUDY FINDS

By Elisabeth Rosenthal

Common food additives and colorings can increase hyperactive behavior in a broad range of children, a study being released today found.

It was the first time researchers conclusively and scientifically confirmed a link that had long been suspected by many parents. Numerous support groups for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have for years recommended removing such ingredients from diets, although experts have continued to debate the evidence.

But the new, carefully controlled study shows that some artificial additives increase hyperactivity and decrease attention span in a wide range of children, not just those for whom overactivity has been diagnosed as a learning problem.

The new research, which was financed by Britain's Food Standards Agency and published online by the British medical journal The Lancet, presents regulators with a number of issues: Should foods containing preservatives and artificial colors carry warning labels? Should some additives be prohibited entirely? Should school cafeterias remove foods with additives?

After all, the researchers note that overactivity makes learning more difficult for children.

"A mix of additives commonly found in children's foods increases the mean level of hyperactivity," wrote the researchers, led by Jim Stevenson, a professor of psychology at the University of Southampton. "The finding lends strong support for the case that food additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviors (inattention, impulsivity and overactivity) at least into middle childhood."

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Additional background reading:

P. Grandjean and P.J. Landrigan, "Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals," Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 368 (December 16, 2006), pgs. 2167-2178.

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In response to the study, the Food Standards Agency advised parents to monitor their children's activity and, if they noted a marked change with food containing additives, to adjust their diets accordingly, eliminating artificial colors and preservatives.

But Professor Stevenson said it was premature to go further. "We've set up an issue that needs more exploration," he said in a telephone interview.

In response to the study, some pediatricians cautioned that a diet without artificial colors and preservatives might cause other problems for children.

"Even if it shows some increase in hyperactivity, is it clinically significant and does it impact the child's life?" said Dr. Thomas Spencer, a specialist in Pediatric Psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Is it powerful enough that you want to ostracize your kid? It is very socially impacting if children can't eat the things that their friends do."

Still, Dr. Spencer called the advice of the British food agency "sensible," noting that some children may be "supersensitive to additives" just as some people are more sensitive to caffeine.

The Lancet study focused on a variety of food colorings and on sodium benzoate, a common preservative. The researchers note that removing this preservative from food could cause problems in itself by increasing spoilage. In the six-week trial, researchers gave a randomly selected group of several hundred 3-year-olds and of 8- and 9-year-olds drinks with additives -- colors and sodium benzoate -- that mimicked the mix in children's drinks that are commercially available. The dose of additives consumed was equivalent to that in one or two servings of candy a day, the researchers said. Their diet was otherwise controlled to avoid other sources of the additives.

A control group was given an additive-free placebo drink that looked and tasted the same.

All of the children were evaluated for inattention and hyperactivity by parents, teachers (for school-age children) and through a computer test. Neither the researchers nor the subject knew which drink any of the children had consumed.

The researchers discovered that children in both age groups were significantly more hyperactive and that they had shorter attention spans if they had consumed the drink containing the additives. The study did not try to link specific consumption with specific behaviors. The study's authors noted that other research suggested that the hyperactivity could increase in as little as an hour after artificial additives were consumed.

The Lancet study could not determine which of the additives caused the poor performances because all the children received a mix. "This was a very complicated study, and it will take an even more complicated study to figure out which components caused the effect," Professor Stevenson said.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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From: New Scientist (pg. 44)
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TOXIC COCKTAIL

By Bijal Trivedi

Today, and every day, you can expect to be exposed to some 75,000 artificial chemicals. All day long you will be breathing them in, absorbing them through your skin and swallowing them in your food. Throughout the night they will seep out of carpets, pillows and curtains, and drift into your lungs. Living in this chemical soup is an inescapable side effect of 21st-century living. The question is: is it doing us any harm?

There are good reasons to think that it might be. Not because of the action of any one chemical but because of the way the effects of different components combine once they are inside the body. As evidence stacks up that this "cocktail effect" is real, regulators around the world are rethinking the way we measure the effects of synthetic mixtures on health.

Environmentalists have long warned of this danger, but until recently there was no solid evidence to confirm their fears -- nor any to allay them. Most toxicity testing has been done on a chemical-by-chemical basis, often by exposing rats to a range of concentrations to find the maximum dose that causes no harm. It's a long way from gauging the effects of the complex mixtures we experience in everyday life, and that could be a dangerous omission.

"When you get a prescription the doctor will ask what else you are taking, because they are concerned about drug interactions, which everyone knows can be quite devastating," says Shanna Swan, director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester in New York. This also happens with chemicals like pesticides and endocrine disrupters, she adds. "You have to consider their interactions, and we are just starting to do that."

To assess the risk posed by such mixtures, a small number of scientists in Europe and the US are now testing chemical brews on yeast, fish and rats. The effects could be additive, or they might be synergistic -- that is, greater than the sum of the parts. They could even cancel each other out. Finding out is important, because we don't have enough data on many compounds to anticipate how they will interact when mixed. Other researchers are probing for associations between disease in humans and past exposure to groups of chemicals.

Andreas Kortenkamp, an environmental toxicologist at the School of Pharmacy, University of London, and his colleagues developed an interest in these mixture effects after they noticed a rise in endocrine disorders, suggesting that the body's hormonal systems may have been disrupted. In men there were increases in congenital malformations like hypospadia -- in which the urethra is on the wrong side of the penis -- and cryptorchidism, a condition in which the testes fail to descend into the scrotum. There was also a rise in testicular cancer and lower sperm counts. In women there were more breast cancers and polycystic ovaries.

These increases posed a conundrum for the researchers. When they examined people who had these disorders, and their mothers, they found they had only very low levels of the chemicals that are known to cause the disorders; in the lab, only much higher concentrations of these individual compounds have be found to produce the same effects. This led Kortenkamp to suspect that mixtures were the missing link. He wondered if the effects of different chemicals, acting through the same biochemical pathway, could add up.

Kortenkamp's group focused on groups of chemicals called xenoestrogens, compounds that disrupt the activity of the hormone oestrogen and induce the development of female sexual characteristics. High levels of xenoestrogens in the environment have been shown to feminise male fish, and have even driven one species in an isolated experimental lake in Canada almost to extinction.

In 2002 Kortenkamp and his colleagues tested a mix of eight xenoestrogens on yeast. These included chemicals used as plasticisers, sunscreen ingredients and others found in cooling and insulating fluids. In the mixture, each was below the level that toxicologists call the "no-observed-effect concentration" -- the level that should be safe. Sure enough, the combination triggered unusual effects in the yeast. Kortenkamp and his colleagues dubbed the mixture effect "something from nothing" (see Diagram).

Kortenkamp and his colleagues found that if the doses of all eight chemicals were simply added together, after adjusting for the varying potencies, this new cumulative dose could be used to predict the effect -- a principle called "dose addition". "This result was to be expected, but it had never been shown with endocrine disrupters until our work," says Kortenkamp. Intuitively this makes sense, he says: "Every mixture component contributes to the effect, no matter how small."

Since then the effect has been shown with other species, too. Kortenkamp and his colleagues now report that mixtures of xenoestrogens feminised males to varying degrees even though the individual components should have been harmless. In July this year the team showed that a blend of anti-androgens -- chemicals that block the effect of male sex hormones -- can work in the same way. They exposed pregnant rats to two common fungicides, vinclozolin and procymidone, and the prostate cancer drug flutamide, and then screened the male offspring for reproductive deformities. At higher doses, each of these three chemicals wreaks havoc with sex hormones, and they all do it via the same mechanism: they disrupt male development by blocking androgen receptors and so prevent natural hormones from binding. The researchers found that even when the chemicals were used in doses that had no effect when given individually to pregnant rats, a mixture of them disrupted the sexual development of male fetuses.

Earl Gray, an ecotoxicologist at the reproductive toxicology division of the US Environmental Protection Agency's Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (HEERL) in Research Triangle, North Carolina, and his team also tried exposing pregnant rats to vinclozolin and procymidone. When they exposed the animals to the compounds individually, they too saw no effect. But when they combined the two, half of the males were born with hypospadia. Gray calls this phenomenon "the new math -- zero plus zero equals something".

Gray then tried the same experiment with phthalates -- the ubiquitous compounds that are used to soften plastics and thicken lotions, and are found in everything from shampoo to vinyl flooring and flexible medical tubing. They also disrupt male development, in this case by stopping the fetus from making testosterone. The mix of two phthalates that Gray used caused many of the same effects on male rat fetuses as a mixture of vinclozolin and procymidone.

It makes sense that chemicals targeting the same pathway would have an additive effect. But what about mixtures of chemicals that work via different mechanisms? Surely the individual doses of such chemicals would not be additive in the same way.

"The mixture of different chemicals shouldn't have had any effect. But it did"In 2004, Gray and his team put this to the test by mixing procymidone with a phthalate at levels that, on their own, would produce no effect. Because the chemicals work via different routes, he expected that the combination wouldn't have any effect either. But they did. Then the team mixed seven compounds -- with four independent routes of action -- each at a level that did not produce an effect. "We expected nothing to happen, but when we give all [the compounds] together, all the animals are malformed," Gray says. "We disrupted the androgen receptor signalling pathway by several different mechanisms. It seems the tissue can't tell the difference and is responding in an additive fashion."

All of this is throwing up problems for regulatory agencies around the world. Governments generally don't take into account the additive effects of different chemicals, with the exception of dioxins -- which accumulate to dangerous levels and disrupt hormones in the body -- and some pesticides. For the most part, risk assessments are done one chemical at a time.

Even then, regulation is no simple issue. First you need to know a chemical's potency, identify which tissues it harms and determine whether a certain population might be exposed to other chemicals that might damage the same tissue. Add in the cocktail effect and it gets harder still. "It is a pretty difficult regulatory scenario," admits Gray. "At this point the science is easier than implementing the regulatory framework."

Mixed up inside

For one thing, with many mixtures it's almost impossible to work out how much we're getting. The endocrine disrupter diethyl phthalate, for example, easily escapes from plastics and is in so many different products -- from toothbrushes to toys, and packaging to cosmetics and drugs -- that it would be difficult to work out the aggregate exposure from all sources, says Gray. This also makes it tricky to investigate possible links between chemical mixtures and disease. "Everyone has exposure to chemicals, even people living in the Arctic," says John Sumpter, an ecotoxicologist at Brunel University in London. "We can't go to a group with a mixture of nasty chemicals and then go to another who have had no exposure and compare their rate of breast cancer risk or sperm count. We are doing a scientific experiment by letting these chemicals accumulate in our bodies, blood and wildlife."

That's why some researchers are suggesting new ways to gauge the effects of chemical mixtures on the body. For example, rather than trying to identify levels of individual xenoestrogens in a patient's blood, it may be more efficient to take a serum sample and determine the "oestrogenic burden" being imposed on their body from a variety of different sources by testing the sample on oestrogen-sensitive cells in the lab. "It might work well as a screening tool to identify people with potential problems," says Linda Birnbaum, director of the experimental toxicology division at HEERL. Then, for example, you could make cocktails of foods, water and other products from the person's life to try to identify the source of the chemicals.

Nicolas Olea, a doctor and oncologist at the University of Granada, Spain, is already trying this kind of approach. He is exploring whether exposure to chemicals with oestrogenic activity leads to genital malformations like cryptorchidism and hypospadia in men, and breast cancer in women. He and his colleagues took samples from various tissues and measured the ability of the environmental contaminants in them to trigger the proliferation of lab-cultured oestrogen-sensitive cells. Because it is difficult to predict from a compound's structure whether it might have oestrogenic effects, a cell-based assay like this is a cheap way to screen potentially harmful chemicals. They found that the higher this "total effective xenoestrogen burden" the greater the chance the contaminants could disrupt oestrogen-dependent processes.

Others are cautiously optimistic about Olea's approach. "The concept is correct, I cannot comment on how well the cell effect tracks a cancer effect," says James Pirkle, deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control's Environmental Health Laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia.

Shanna Swan is doing something similar. In a study published in 2005 she showed that boys whose mothers had had higher levels of five phthalates while their babies were in the womb had a shorter distance between the anus and genitals -- a marker of feminising activity. They also had higher rates of cryptorchidism compared to sons of mothers with lower phthalate levels. Swan devised a cumulative score to reflect exposure levels to all five phthalates and found that score was "very predictive of ano-genital distance".

The method is still expensive, and a regular "phthalate scan" isn't on the cards just yet. A potentially less costly approach, says Pirkle, is regular biomonitoring of subsets of the population to measure the levels of dangerous chemicals in blood and urine, and link particular chemicals to specific health effects. Every two years since 2001, the US Centers for Disease Control has published data on the US population's exposure to a range of potentially harmful chemicals. In 2005 the agency released data for 148 chemicals; next year it plans to release a report covering 275. While that number falls far short of the number of new chemicals entering the fray each year, Pirkle says that technology is making it ever easier to monitor new substances. The reports do not consider specific mixtures but include exposure data for each individual chemical to make it easier to calculate the likely effects of mixtures.

The European Union, meanwhile, is taking steps to control the number of chemicals being released in the first place. On 1 June its REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances) regulations became law. The aim is to cut health risks associated with everyday chemicals by forcing chemical manufacturers and importers to register their compounds and provide safety information to the new European Chemicals Agency, based in Helsinki, Finland. This information must be provided before the chemicals are sold. The new law shifts the burden of responsibility for the health effects of chemicals from government to industry and is also intended to encourage the use of less harmful alternatives for the more toxic chemicals.

Not everyone is so worried about the cocktail effect. Some researchers even find it reassuring -- or at least not as bad as it could be. Kevin Crofton, a neurotoxicologist at the EPA, explored how a mixture of 18 polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbons found in electrical equipment, flame retardants and paints could disrupt thyroid hormone levels in rats. At the lowest doses of the mixture the effect on the levels of the thyroid T4 hormone was what you would expect from the principle of dose addition; at the highest doses the effect was twice that. "Some people would call that synergy," says Crofton, "but it is not a very big synergistic effect. It was a twofold difference."

He adds: "These results are quite reassuring because EPA's default to calculate the cumulative risk of mixtures is dose addition." Only recently, however, have scientists like Crofton been able to prove that this default is correct. "If it had been a 20-fold difference I would have said, 'Boy, the agency needs to look into how it is doing things.'"

Kortenkamp says that regulatory bodies seem to be starting to acknowledge that chemical-by-chemical risk assessment provides a false sense of security. In November last year around 100 scientists and EU policy-makers at the "Weybridge +10" workshop held in Helsinki concluded that mixture effects must be considered during risk assessment and regulation. The European Commission plans to spend more on probing the effects of environmental chemicals on human health.

For now, though, chemicals are an inescapable part of life. And while high-profile campaigns by pressure groups like WWF seek to alert us to what they see as the dangers of artificial chemicals, some toxicologists warn that they may be overstating the case. "I think you need to be careful about hyping the risk," says Crofton, referring to stories in which individuals have been screened for several hundred chemicals. "When you say I have 145 chemicals in my body, that in itself does not translate into a hazard. You have to know something about the dose, the hazard and how all these chemicals can add up." Olea, however, suggest that it is sensible to be cautious. "If you don't know it is good, assume it is bad," he says.

Like it or not, the chemicals are with us. "People can't keep phthalates [or other chemicals] out of their air, water or food," says Swan. "Most people don't have the information or money to do these things." A more productive approach might be to tell people how to limit exposure to harmful substances and request better labelling from manufacturers. "We need to put a lot of money into figuring out what these things do in real-world scenarios and take regulatory action," she says. "Just like we limited cigarette smoke exposure, we'll have to limit other exposures."

Bijal Trivedi is a freelance science writer based in Washington DC

Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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From: Financial Times (London, UK)
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BUSINESS GROUP SAYS CLIMATE CHANGE REQUIRES A REVOLUTION

By John Aglionby in Jakarta

A revolution of society on a scale never witnessed in peacetime is needed if climate change is to be tackled successfully, the head of a major business grouping has warned.

Bjorn Stigson, the head of the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), predicted governments would be unable to reach agreement on a framework for reducing carbon emissions at either a US-sponsored meeting in Washington later this month or at a United Nations climate summit in Indonesia in December.

Climate change is also expected to be high on the agenda at this week's annual summit of Pacific leaders in Sydney.

"It will probably get worse before it gets better before governments feel they've got the political mandate to act," he told the Financial Times during a visit to Jakarta. "We're going to have to go into some sort of crisis before it's going to be resolved. I don't think people have realised the challenge. This is more serious than what people think."

The "challenge", Mr Stigson said, is for developed nations to cut carbon emission levels by 60 to 80 per cent from current levels by 2050 if global emissions are to be kept below 550 parts per million. Global emissions at that level would keep average permanent global temperature increase below 3 degrees by 2050, a level beyond which most scientists say climate change would be significantly worse.

The WBCSD reached this conclusion after studying the Stern review on climate change, the International Energy Association's world energy outlook, and a recent International Plant Protection Convention review.

"I think it's beginning to dawn on people that we are talking about such a major change in society people are saying this is tougher than what we thought," he said. "How do you change society in a radical way in a democracy so the people you want to vote for you are also going to suffer the consequences of the policies that you put in place."

"I don't think we've seen that kind of a challenge in societal change happening peacefully. It's [only] happened in revolutions."

The 200 members of the WBCSD, which have a combined market cap of $6,000bn, are dismayed by politicians' lack of political will to address the issues, Mr Stigson said.

"We're very concerned by what we see and the lack of response from governments in grasping the responsibility they have in dealing with this issue," he said. "Our problem right now is that we...don't know what the policies are going to be beyond 2012. How do you take these issues into consideration when you build a new plant that's going to live for 30, 40 years."

The WBCSD want rich countries to agree on global targets for themselves while committing to developing nations $80-$100bn a year and technology to help them grow more sustainably.

"If that deal is not there, you'll be in a situation where India, China and Brazil will say, we're not going to get into any agreement," he said. "If I were betting my money now, I would bet that by 2012 the world will not have a global framework. We will have a patchwork of regional and national regulations that we have to make as compatible as possible."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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From: Denver Post (Denver, Colo.)
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GRASSLANDS ARE LOSING GROUND

By Katy Human Denver Post Staff Writer

On eastern Colorado's grassy rangeland, the dominant plant of the future may be one shunned even by the hungriest of cattle: fringed sage.

The unpalatable mint-green shrub increased in bulk by 40 times during climate change experiments conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University, the scientists reported last week.

"It was a minor species at the beginning of the study, but by the end of four years, 10 percent of the aboveground cover was this species," said Jack Morgan, a USDA range scientist in Fort Collins.

"Here's a plant that may be a winner in a greenhouse future," Morgan said.

Grassland covers about 40 percent of Earth's land, Morgan and his colleagues

Scientists set up greenhouses on prairie 40 miles northeast of Fort Collins and then pumped carbon dioxide into some of them to see how that would affect the vegetation over four years. (Photo courtesy ARS Rangeland Resources Research Unit)wrote in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and woody shrubs have been moving steadily into most of the planet's grasslands for more than a century. Scientists have attributed that livestock-unfriendly trend to many things, Morgan said, from the suppression of natural fires to overgrazing, drought and climate change.

"There's some who would debate if carbon dioxide and climate change were a factor," Morgan said. "But that's what our study shows - clearly."

Forty miles northeast of Fort Collins, on Colorado's northeastern plains, Morgan and his colleagues set up clear plastic greenhouses around plots of prairie.

They pumped extra carbon dioxide into some of the greenhouses, left ambient air in others, and followed plant communities in both -- and on normal prairie -- for four years.

Fringed sage increased its aboveground bulk by 40 times in the greenhouses with extra carbon dioxide, the team found.

"That's a huge response," Morgan said. "I've not seen any plant in the literature that responds as much."

Other studies have shown that plant species react differently to climate change.

In Colorado's mountains, fields of wildflowers gave way to sage during warming experiments.

In a California grassland, species diversity dropped when scientists increased carbon dioxide levels.

On rangeland, the likely continued woody plant encroachment is not just an ecological problem. It's a financial one for ranchers, said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Arvada-based Colorado Cattlemen's Association.

"We know climate change is inevitable, and we know that means species changes," Fankhauser said.

More shrubs and fewer grasses would not be welcome changes, he said, although Colorado cattlemen have long had to deal with woody invaders.

"It's already a part of everyday ranch management," Fankhauser said. "We have to control those woody species to maintain native vegetation."

Staff writer Katy Human can be reached at 303-954-1910 or khuman@denverpost.com.

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From: The New York Times (pg. A19)
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SEEKING WILLIE HORTON

By Paul Krugman, Times columnist

So now Mitt Romney is trying to Willie Hortonize Rudy Giuliani. And thereby hangs a tale -- the tale, in fact, of American politics past and future, and the ultimate reason Karl Rove's vision of a permanent Republican majority was a foolish fantasy.

Willie Horton, for those who don't remember the 1988 election, was a convict from Massachusetts who committed armed robbery and rape after being released from prison on a weekend furlough program. He was made famous by an attack ad, featuring a menacing mugshot, that played into racial fears. Many believe that the ad played an important role in George H.W. Bush's victory over Michael Dukakis.

Now some Republicans are trying to make similar use of the recent murder of three college students in Newark, a crime in which two of the suspects are Hispanic illegal immigrants. Tom Tancredo flew into Newark to accuse the city's leaders of inviting the crime by failing to enforce immigration laws, while Newt Gingrich declared that the "war here at home" against illegal immigrants is "even more deadly than the war in Iraq and Afghanistan."

And Mr. Romney, who pretends to be whatever he thinks the G.O.P. base wants him to be, is running a radio ad denouncing New York as a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants, an implicit attack on Mr. Giuliani.

Strangely, nobody seems to be trying to make a national political issue out of other horrifying crimes, like the Connecticut home invasion in which two paroled convicts, both white, are accused of killing a mother and her two daughters. Oh, and by the way: over all, Hispanic immigrants appear to commit relatively few crimes -- in fact, their incarceration rate is actually lower than that of native-born non-Hispanic whites.

To appreciate what's going on here you need to understand the difference between the goals of the modern Republican Party and the strategy it uses to win elections.

The people who run the G.O.P. are concerned, above all, with making America safe for the rich. Their ultimate goal, as Grover Norquist once put it, is to get America back to the way it was "up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over," getting rid of "the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that."

But right-wing economic ideology has never been a vote-winner. Instead, the party's electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity.

Ronald Reagan didn't become governor of California by preaching the wonders of free enterprise; he did it by attacking the state's fair housing law, denouncing welfare cheats and associating liberals with urban riots. Reagan didn't begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on supply-side economics, he began it -- at the urging of a young Trent Lott -- with a speech supporting states' rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

And if you look at the political successes of the G.O.P. since it was taken over by movement conservatives, they had very little to do with public opposition to taxes, moral values, perceived strength on national security, or any of the other explanations usually offered. To an almost embarrassing extent, they all come down to just five words: southern whites starting voting Republican.

In fact, I suspect that the underlying importance of race to the Republican base is the reason Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination, despite his serial adultery and his past record as a social liberal. Never mind moral values: what really matters to the base is that Mr. Giuliani comes across as an authoritarian, willing in particular to crack down on you-know-who.

But Republicans have a problem: demographic changes are making their race-based electoral strategy decreasingly effective. Quite simply, America is becoming less white, mainly because of immigration. Hispanic and Asian voters were only 4 percent of the electorate in 1980, but they were 11 percent of voters in 2004 -- and that number will keep rising for the foreseeable future.

Those numbers are the reason Karl Rove was so eager to reach out to Hispanic voters. But the whites the G.O.P. has counted on to vote their color, not their economic interests, are having none of it. From their point of view, it's us versus them -- and everyone who looks different is one of them.

So now we have the spectacle of Republicans competing over who can be most convincingly anti-Hispanic. I know, officially they're not hostile to Hispanics in general, only to illegal immigrants, but that's a distinction neither the G.O.P. base nor Hispanic voters takes seriously.

Today's G.O.P., in short, is trapped by its history of cynicism. For decades it has exploited racial animosity to win over white voters -- and now, when Republican politicians need to reach out to an increasingly diverse country, the base won't let them.

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