The Hightower Report
Why Not 'Drink Local'?; and Clogging Up Congress
In a triumph of marketing over reasoning, the bottled-water industry has turned us into conspicuously silly consumers.
WHY NOT 'DRINK LOCAL'?
Controlled by a handful of global conglomerates (such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé), the water industry has created the fantasy that if it's in a bottle, it's purer than what comes out of the tap. But wait the Environmental Protection Agency stringently regulates the public water systems, requiring tests several times a day for bacteria and other contaminants, and these test results are public information. The corporate bottlers, on the other hand, are overseen by the more lackadaisical Food and Drug Administration, which requires them to test their water sources only once a week and the results are kept secret by the corporations.
One group beginning to rebel is one you might not expect: upscale restaurants. Such places profit handsomely from offering Perrier, San Pellegrino, Fiji, and other designer waters, paying a dollar or two for each bottle and selling them for eight or 10 bucks. Yet, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and Del Posto in New York City are among the pioneers who are foregoing this profit center, substituting free filtered tap water or house-made sparkling water that's also drawn from the tap.
Why would they do this? Because they are part of a growing sustainable food movement that prides itself on using local, seasonal ingredients for menu items. Think about it: In terms of energy, environment, and sustainability, it makes no sense to load cargo ships with millions of bottles of water, haul them thousands of miles to our shores, truck them hundreds of miles to our restaurants, then chuck the bottles into our overloaded landfills when the local, public water system supplies perfectly good water available at the turn of a faucet.
Just as it makes economic and environmental sense to "eat local," it also makes sense to "drink local."
To the Democratic leaders of Congress, I can only say: Heck of a job!
CLOGGING UP CONGRESS
In less than six months, the top Democrats have squandered the outpouring of public support gained from last year's congressional elections. On the war, on ethics, and on challenging corporate power, American voters expressed faith that Democrats would change Congress and begin to serve the public interest.
But poof! that faith is gone. The latest polls show that only 27% of the people approve of the way Congress is doing its job.
Why the precipitous decline? Because the "new" Democrats are still burdened with too many don't-rock-the-boat, money-soaked, corporate-backed old Democrats who sit in key leadership posts. They are so entrenched that they don't feel the public's anger about Bush's war, so they have no sense of urgency about confronting this out-of-control president.
Even on congressional ethics reform, which should be a slam dunk for Democrats, some of the old bulls have balked. They don't want an independent ethics commission, they don't want to limit their own possibilities of cashing in to become lobbyists, and they don't want to stop using lobbyists as their campaign fundraisers.
Then, on their first chance to confront corporate power, some old-guard Democrats have weaseled. Rather than an honest, bold energy bill to stop the corporate causes of climate change, the Democrats' house bill would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks, would prevent states from doing so, and would set fuel-economy standards weaker even than Bush has proposed!
What this means is that our job of congressional cleanup is not complete. Voters made a good start last year, but we must continue next year, recruiting and electing more true reformers to replace the business-as-usual crowd that's clogging up both parties.