Buyer Beware: Are Americans Systematically Poisoning Themselves

cosmetics

The US has the worst record in the industrialized world for regulating toxic chemicals. Thanks to the stranglehold powerful corporate lobbies have on Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), millions of Americans may be systematically poisoning themselves with common household products, toiletries and cosmetics.

At present, Americans are at highest risk from endocrine disruptors found in soft plastic and most commercial cleaning and beauty products. These are chemicals that mimic estrogen and other hormones in their effect on the human body. Many epidemiologists believe they are linked to the current epidemic of breast cancer, premature puberty, birth defects, and both male and female infertility. What many people forget is that cancer was an extremely rare condition prior to World War II and the appearance of hundreds of synthetic chemicals on the scene.

The dangerous phalates and bisphenyl-A found in plastic water bottles, pacifiers, and baby toys have been fairly well publicized (I hope.). There seems to be less public awareness that nearly all commercial shampoos, hand and body lotions, deodorants, toothpaste, and sunscreen contain preservatives that function as estrogen-like endocrine disruptors. The US bans only eight of these compounds. In contrast the EU bans more than 1,000.

In addition to causing harm to people who use them, these toxic endocrine disruptors accumulate in waterways when they’re flushed down the drain. Indigenous populations in both the third world and the Arctic are found to have hundreds of these toxic chemicals in their blood stream and breast milk even though most of them have never even heard of Right Guard or Colgate toothpaste.

Parabens: the Worst Offenders

One of the worst offenders is the paraben class of compounds (mostly found as methyparaben or PABA), which is used as a preservative in nearly all commercial toiletries. The second most common is triclosan, found in numerous so-called antibacterial products, including the following:

  • Neutrogena Deep Clean Body Scrub Bar
  • Lever 2000 Special Moisture Response Bar Soap, Antibacterial
  • CVS Antibacterial Hand Soap
  • Dial Liquid Soap, Antibacterial Bar Soap
  • Softsoap Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap
  • Cetaphil Gentle Antibacterial Cleansing Bar
  • Clearasil Daily Face Wash
  • Clean & Clear Oil Free Foaming Facial Cleanser
  • Dawn Complete Antibacterial Dish Liquid
  • Ajax Antibacterial Dish Liquid
  • Colgate Total Toothpaste
  • Right Guard Sport Deodorant
  • Old Spice Red Zone, High Endurance and Classic Deodorants
  • Vaseline Intensive Care Antibacterial Hand Lotion

Toxic Nanoparticles

Even less well publicized are potentially toxic “nanosized” particles present in many popular sunscreens and so called “natural” mineral foundations. (See 2010 Friends of the Earth study and recent article by Terence Newton linking nanoparticles with DNA damage and cancer.)

Nanoparticle containing skin products are strictly regulated in the UK and Europe, where laws require mandatory safety testing and labeling. In the US, the FDA, which has known for nearly a decade that common sunscreens contain ingredients that accelerate the growth of skin cancer cells. Yet they still refuse to act on this information.

Nanoparticles are absorbed into the blood stream through skin damaged through eczema or psoriasis, a major health concern as mineral foundations are specifically marketed to women to conceal unsightly dermatitis. Some studies show that mineral foundation powders are inhaled into the lungs during application. Others suggest that nanoparticles penetrate healthy skin.

Not only are these substances totally unregulated in the US , but due to lax labeling laws, 80 percent of sunscreens that claim to be free of nanoparticles are found, on testing, to contain them.

Hair Dyes

Over fifty million American women, as well as an increasing number of men, dye their hair on a regular basis. Many start in early adolescence, resulting in cumulative, lifelong exposure to some extremely toxic substances:

  • Phenylenediamine (PPD) – present in over two-third of chemical hair dyes and by far the most toxic. Linked (in animals) to damage of the immune and nervous system, skin, liver and kidneys. Banned in France , Germany , and Sweden and use “restricted” in Canada .
  • Resorcinal – classified by the European Union as a harmful skin and eye irritant and dangerous to the environment.
  • Ammonia – irritant to skin, eyes, and respiratory system (can cause asthma).
  • Peroxide – potential toxic effects on eyes, nervous and respiratory (can cause asthma) system. Can cause DNA damage, possibly leading to cancer. Banned in cosmetic use in Japan and use “restricted” in Canada.
  • 4-ABP – linked to cancer

Many so-called “natural” hair dyes also contain some PPD, but in lower concentrations. As with other toiletries and beauty products described above, checking labels is essential, or better still doing a little Internet research to find a safer alternative.

Dangerous Chemicals in Household Cleaners

AIR FRESHENERS – usually contain methoxychlor, a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells, as well as formaldehyde, a highly toxic, known carcinogen, and phenol, a common culprit in contact allergies.

CARPET AND UPHOLSTERY SHAMPOO – commonly contain perchlorethylene, a known carcinogen, and ammonium hydroxide, a corrosive, extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages.

DISHWASHER DETERGENTS (number one cause of household poisoning) – commonly contain highly concentrated dry form of chlorine, which leaves a residue on dishes that accumulates with each washing and is absorbed into hot food.

FURNITURE POLISH contain petroleum distillates, which can cause skin and lung cancer and nitrobenzene, linked with low sperm counts, anemia and liver, kidney, lung and eye damage.

LAUNDRY detergents contain the following chemicals (which remain as residue in clothes, as well as being released into waterways):

  • Petroleum distillates (aka napthas) – linked to cancer, lung damage and inflammation (can cause asthma) and damage to mucous membranes.
  • Phenols – linked with damage to nervous system, heart, blood vessels, lungs (can cause asthma) and kidneys.
  • Nonyl phenol ethoxylate – endocrine disruptor banded in Europe, owing to link to breast cancer, premature puberty and low sperm counts.
  • Optical brighteners (convert UV light wavelengths into visible light, making clothes appear whiter without making them cleaner) – toxic to fish and can cause allergic reactions when exposed skin is later exposed to sunlight.
  • Phosphates (banned in many states) – contribute to water “dead zones” by stimulating algae growth that depletes oxygen needed for fish and other animal life.
  • Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) – highly toxic chemical which reacts with organic materials in the environment to form carcinogenic and toxic compounds that can cause reproductive, endocrine and immune system disorders.
  • EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate) – chelating agent that biodegrades poorly and can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to enter the food chain.

OVEN CLEANERS – contain highly toxic and corrosive lye and ammonia with fumes that can damage the respiratory system (especially of small children and pets) and which leave residue that is vaporized when the oven is turned on.

TOILET BOWL CLEANERS contain hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive irritant which can damage skin, eyes, kidneys and liver; and hypochlorite bleach, a corrosive irritant that can damage eyes, skin and respiratory tract.

 

photo credit: Nikita Kashner via photopin cc

Those Fracking Lies

snake oil

Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future 

Richard Heinberg (Post Carbon Institute, 2013)

Book Review

Snake Oil is all about the economics of fracking. Also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking refers to using pressurized water and chemicals to release oil or natural gas trapped in underground rock formations. Heinberg’s new book describes the behind-the-scenes role of Goldman Sachs and other investment banks in driving the present fracking boom.

Technology to extract oil and gas deposits trapped in rock formations was first developed in 1866. Because the process is extremely capital intensive, fracking for oil only became economically sustainable in when the price of oil tripled a decade ago. In the case of natural gas, it took the elimination of price controls and federal tax credits to make fracking financially feasible.

How Fracking Loses Money
According to Heinberg, fossil fuel companies are losing money on fracking. The recent boom has led to a surplus of natural gas. This, in turn, has driven the price down, forcing the oil/gas industry to sell it for less than they spend to get it out of the ground. Because only a small fraction of shale gas can be extracted cost effectively, production declines by an average of 80-90% over the first 36 months. Industry data indicates it costs between $10-20 million to operate a fracking rig that will produce $6-15 million worth of natural gas in the well’s lifetime.

Obviously you can’t tell investors that fracking for natural gas is a money-losing proposition. Investors only want to hear that fracking is the miracle solution to America’s dependence on dirty coal and foreign oil. Thus oil/gas companies, the banks that finance them, the federal agencies that regulate them and Obama himself all parrot the hype that fracking will supply cheap natural gas to fuel US power plants for the next 100 years. According to Heinberg, this wildly optimistic prediction was calculated by extrapolating the best production rates of the best fracking sites over the 20,000 or so existing rigs. The problem with this methodology is that it fails to allow for rapid depletion rates or the fact that the best wells are already tapped out.

This pressure to meet financial targets forces the companies to sink more and more wells. Thirty-five to fifty percent of existing wells (7,200 wells) must be replaced every year “just to pay off the bankers.”

Fracking Based Derivatives
The only way companies can stay in business is by selling assets and financial products. This includes unused oil and gas leases* they acquired cheaply in the 1990s, company shares, derivatives and credit default swaps. The investment banks themselves have created their own fracking-based derivative called volumetric production payments (VPPS). The banks bundle them and sell them to gullible pension fund managers, just like they did toxic mortgages before the 2008 crash.

The billions they’re losing explains why the industry is so keen to start exporting fracked gas as Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to China, Japan and India. These countries are happy to pay $15 per million BTUs, nearly four times the domestic price of $4. A growing export market will quickly drive up US prices.

Environmental Consequences of Fracking
Meanwhile the explosion of fracking rigs across the landscape is causing massive environmental damage and eating up scarce dollars we should be investing in renewable energy. Owing to strong public opposition, fracking is banned or strictly regulated in most of Europe. As a result, Europeans are far more likely to invest energy dollars in renewables. In 2012, Germany obtained 23% of their electricity from renewable sources, Denmark 41% and Portugal 45%

Snake Oil debunks the widely promoted myth is that that burning natural gas to produce electricity creates less greenhouse gasses than burning coal. If you count all the methane (a greenhouse gas 20-100 times more potent than CO2) released during fracking, using fracked natural gas to fuel power plants produces 20-100% more greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

The massive amount of freshwater consumed by tens of thousands of fracking wells is also a major concern, especially in drought-stricken regions. The water take for a single well pad cluster can exceed 60 million gallons. The Halliburton Loophole, championed by Dick Cheney, amended the Clean Water Act in 2005 to remove the requirement that oil and gas companies disclose the toxic chemicals they use in fracking. This is especially concerning given recent studies documenting serious health problems in people and livestock adjacent to fracking sites.**

In 2011, the EPA made the determination that fracking waste is too radioactive (from exposure to underground cesium and uranium) to be processed in municipal waste facilities. Thus most of it held in large evaporation pools or re-injected into old wells. A recent US Geological Service study has linked deep well re-injection to a rash of earthquakes in regions that rarely experience them. In 2011 central Oklahoma experienced a fracking-related 5.7 earthquake that destroyed 14 homes and a highway and injured two people.

Other Unconventional Production Methods
Snake Oil also debunks the flimsy economic hype used to promote other methods of unconventional oil and gas production (e.g. oil fracking, deep sea oil drilling, tar sands, etc), as well as examining what the inevitable transition to renewable energy will look like. Because renewable energy will never be as cheap as fossil fuels, some modification will be necessary in our current energy intensive lifestyle.

 *An oil or gas lease is a contract by which a landowner authorizes exploration for and production of oil and on his land, usually in return for royalties from the sale of the oil or gas.
**According to Al Jazeera, a jury has just awarded a Texas family $3 million for fracking related health problems.

 

Originally published in Dissident Voice

Ending Water Fluoridation: One We Can Win*

fluoride deception

The Fluoride Deception

By Christopher Bryson (2004 Seven Stories Press)

Free download from Sheep pee!

Book Review

In Fluoride Deception, BBC journalist Christopher Bryson describes how the decision to deliberately dose US municipal water supplies with a potent industrial toxin was basically a corporate scam dreamed up by Alcoa, GM and Dupont, with the help of Edward Bernays, the infamous father of the public relations industry. Their cynical goal was to stem a tide of lawsuits related to death and injuries from toxic fluoride pollution – by convincing the public that fluoride is good for you.

Fluoride is an extremely toxic pollutant produced by aluminum smelting. GM and Dupont became involved with the scheme because GM held the patent on fluoride-based Freon and Dupon manufactured it. Freon was a common refrigerant which the EPA banned in 2010.

According to Bryson, the FDA first raised the alarm about fluoride toxicity in the early thirties, resulting in scores of lawsuits for aluminum workers crippled and killed from fluoride poisoning and farmers near aluminum plants, whose livestock were killed due to fluoride poisoning.

Public Relations: Cheaper than Pollution Controls

Rather than encouraging Alcoa to institute pollution controls, an Alcoa researcher named Francis Frary decided a better approach was to alter public perception of fluoride. He approached Mellon Institute researcher Gerald Cox. In 1937, Cox performed a single study in rats (who rarely suffer tooth decay to begin with) in 1937 and “proved” fluoride strengthened their teeth.

Frary and Cox were soon joined in their little scheme by Charles Kettering’s GM’s research director and Freon magnate, who approached the American Dental Association, began funding many of their activities. He also got himself appointed to their three member Advisory Committee on Research in Dental Caries. Meanwhile GM and Dupont hired scientist Robert Kehoe to perform safety studies on both fluoride and tetra ethyl lead, a gasoline additive co-manufactured by the two companies. Unsurprisingly, Kehoe declared both leaded gasoline and fluoride safe at “low levels.”

Enter the Father of Public Relations

The most prominent villain in this sordid history was Edwards Bernays, the father of public relations industry. At the beginning, there was massive public opposition to water fluoridation, led mainly by doctors who were well aware of fluoride’s toxicity. Bernays’ answer was to enlist even more prominent doctors to declare it safe, starting with prominent baby doctor Benjamin Spock.

The common perception of a potent toxin such as fluoride being safe and good for teeth is based on decades of corporations paying researchers to produce the scientific results they want – and burying research and firing and blacklisting scientists whose studies show otherwise.

Bryson details numerous deliberate smear campaigns against extremely reputable doctors and scientists who dared to publish research regarding the adverse effects of water fluoridation:

  • Dr. George Waldbott a world famous doctor who first identified penicillin allergy and the link between smoking and emphysema. Waldbott published numerous double blind studies in the fifties showing that fluoride is harmful to human health. The result was a massive corporate smear campaign that destroyed his reputation by marginalizing and demonizing him.
  • Dr William Marcus – a senior EPA toxicologist in the Office of Water, fired in 1992 for attempting to publicize studies showing that  fluoride causes bone and liver cancer. In 1994 Marcus won lawsuit against the federal government and was reinstated. While the EPA still refuses to ban water fluoridation, the unions representing EPA scientists have called for a moratorium.
  • Dr Phyllis Mullinix – research toxicologist hired by Forsyth Dental Institute to study the effect of fluoride on the brain. Mullinex was first fired and then blacklisted in the mid-nineties when she published research showing fluoride produces memory and behavior problems in children.

Where Fluoride Comes From

Although fluoride is added to municipal water supplies as a “drug” – that allegedly improves dental health – it has never been approved by the FDA. In fact most communities source their fluoride from the phosphate fertilizer industry, as hydrofluorosilicic acid. This is an extremely toxic, hazardous waste, and the EPA requires phosphate manufacturers to capture it via “wet scrubbers” in their chimneys (to prevent toxic fluoride gas from being released into the air). The resulting liquid is then loaded, unpurified, into tanker trucks and sold to cities to be added to their public water supply. In addition to fluoride, it also contains a number of heavy metals and radionucleotides (radioactive elements – mainly uranium-238, uranium-234, thorium-230, radium-226, radon-222, lead-210, and polonium-210).

*2014 update

In 2003 the EPA commissioned the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Sciences) to examine all the peer reviewed research to make a determination whether an upper limit of 8 mg of fluoride (eight glasses of water with a fluoride concentration of 4 mg/liter) was still within the margin of safety. In 2006 the NRC came back with the recommendation that 8 mg (4 mg/liter) was definitely too high – as many Americans were experiencing symptoms of chronic fluoride poisoning at this dose.

In addition to lower IQ in children, the NRC found that water flouridation was contributing to an epidemic of hypothyroidism, infertility, arthritis and hip fracture.

Based on the high probability that Americans drinking fluoridated water were suffering serious and irreversible health damage, the NRC urgently recommended that the EPA ban water fluoridation until the safe threshold (based on urine fluoride measurements) could be determined.

The Bush administration and corporate media buried the report.

98% of European municipalities have banned water fluoridation.

In 2011, I was part of a local citizen’s groups that persuaded New Plymouth District Council to remove the fluoride from our water. We had major support from New Zealand’s Fluoride Action Network and internationally renowned biochemist Dr Paul Connett.

Below a presentation by Dr Connett to Toronto anti-fluoride activists:

Link to Fluoride Action Network: http://www.fluoridealert.org/

Corporate Food is Bad for You

Chicago lights

Chicago Lights Urban Farm

 (This is the 1st of  2  posts about dramatic changes that are occurring in food production and marketing, as well as consumer food choices.  Part I addresses the conscious shift many consumers have made over the past decade to locally grown organic food.)

Various studies reveal that as many as 20% of Americans make the conscious choice to eat organic food. Those who make the switch from corporate, industrially produced food do so for a variety of reasons. The main ones are cost, health and ethical concerns. Cost is a big consideration for low income families. In an economic depression accompanied by spiking food prices, growing your own fruits and vegetables or purchasing them from a grower at a farmers’ market can save families literally thousands of dollars a year.

Ironically the economic crisis has one silver lining in inner cities, as neighborhoods organize to create urban orchards and gardens on vacant, foreclosed land. An example is Chicago Lights Urban Farm, which supplies fresh produce for the once notorious Cabrini Green subsidized housing complex. This is the first access to fresh produce in decades for many inner city residents – thanks to the mass exodus of supermarket chains in the eighties and nineties.

Health issues linked to industrial agriculture are the second biggest reason people choose locally grown organic food over the standard corporate options. The growing list includes a number of debilitating and fatal illnesses linked with endocrine disruptors (estrogen-like molecules) in chemical herbicides and pesticides; contamination with infectious organisms; severe allergies, immune problems and cancers associated with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and nanoparticles; type II diabetes related to growth hormones fed to US cattle and the proliferation of superbugs like MRSA (methcillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) linked to antibiotics routinely fed to factory farmed animals.

Endocrine Disruptors and Food Borne Pathogens

At the moment the biggest concern for health advocates is the epidemic of breast cancer and infertility linked to the growing presence of endocrine disruptors in our water supply and food chain. Breast cancer currently affects one out of eight women, and sperm counts in American men are among the lowest in the industrialized world. However the infectious organisms arising from factory farming methods and lax regulation of slaughter facilities are also responsible for a growing number of health problems. Infectious organisms linked with severe illness and death include the prion carried by cattle that causes Creuzfield Jakob disorder (aka Mad Cow Disease); campylobacter, salmonella and pathogenic E coli from the fecal contamination associated with overcrowded livestock pens and inadequate regulation of slaughterhouse hygiene; and Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP), an increasingly common organism linked to a big spike in Crohn’s disease. Lax US food regulation and inspection regimes are worrying enough. Adding to all these concerns is the vast amount of supermarket food imported from third world countries where food production is totally unregulated.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

GMO-related health issues are another reason more and more consumers are going organic. Unlike New Zealand and most of Europe, which ban GMOs, in the US 88% of corn, 93% of soy, 90% of canola (used in cooking oil), 90% of sugar beets (the source of half of US sugar) are genetically modified. Moreover thanks to the millions Monsanto spends lobbying to block product labeling laws, the majority of US shoppers have no way of knowing whether supermarket foods contain GMOs. Knowledgeable consumers are especially angry about the so-called “Monsanto Protection Bill.” This was a clause inserted in a recent continuing budget resolution that virtually guarantees Monsanto immunity against lawsuits for GMO-related health problems and environmental damage.

Nanoparticles

The latest food controversy involves the presence of untested nanoparticles in processed foods. Nanoparticles are submicroscopic particles the food industry adds to foods and packaging to lengthen shelf life, to act as thickening agents and to seal in flavor. As You Sow, NRDC and Friends of the Earth, first raised the alarm about five years ago regarding the nanoparticles used in cosmetics. They were mainly concerned about studies which showed that inhaled nanoparticles cause the same kind of lung damage as asbestos and can lead to cancer. More recently the American Society of Safety Engineers has issued warning about research showing that nanoparticles in food pass into the bloodstream, accumulate in organs and interfere with metabolic process and immune function.

Environmental and Psychological Benefits

Aside from cost and health concerns, an increasing number of consumers eat locally produced organic food for ethical and environmental reasons. In doing so, they are consciously opting out of an insane corporate agriculture system in which food is transported halfway around the world to satisfy an artificially created demand for strawberries in the winter. They are joining food localization initiatives springing up in thousands of neighborhoods and communities to increase options for locally produced organic food. As they reconnect with local growers to start farmers’ markets (the number in the US is 3,200 and growing) and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives*, they find they are simultaneously rebuilding fundamental community ties their grandparents enjoyed.

Many farmers’ markets serve the additional function of a key gathering place for friends and neighbors. As you can see from the following video:

*Community Supported Agriculture is an alternative, locally-based economic model of agriculture and food distribution, in which local residents pre-subscribe to the produce of a given plot of farmland and take weekly delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables and free range/organic meat, eggs, raw milk, etc.

photo credit: crfsproject via photopin

Originally published in Dissident Voice

1968

1968

(More from my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)

1968: The Year that Rocked the World

by Mark Kurlansky (Vintage 2005)

Book Review

1968 was a year for citizen uprisings around the world. Kurlansky comprehensively reviews 19 of them.* Student activists and workers on both sides of the Iron Curtain learned from and copied one another and supported each other’s liberation struggles.

The most eye-opening section discusses the importance of violence in attracting media attention. No one understand the importance of the media in movement building better than Mohandas Gandhi, who went to great lengths to obtain Indian, British, and American coverage of every protest he organized. He also spoke and wrote about the value of British violence in enticing the media to cover the Quit India movement.

According to Kurlansky, Martin Luther King also understood the role of police violence in drawing national media attention – which would be essential in pressuring Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to enforce federal civil rights laws. Kurlansky talks about a police chief in Albany, Georgia who thwarted King’s organizing efforts by studying his nonviolent tactics and countering them with nonviolent law enforcement. Because there was no police violence in Albany, it received no national media attention. .

After Albany, King and other civil rights leaders deliberately targeted towns with hothead police chiefs and angry, volatile mayors. In a 1965 incident, a King protester named Annie Lee Cooper punched the sheriff. and then dared him to hit her. The photo of Sheriff Clark clubbing a defenseless woman made the front page of every mainstream newspaper.

The 1968 Democratic Convention

At August 1968 Democratic Convention, yet again it was police violence by Mayor Daley’s goons that drew national media attention to what was essentially a harmless prank by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Phil Ochs and other Yippies (Youth International Party). Featured events at the Yippies’ Festival of Light included snaking dancing, poetry, mantras, the Yippie Olympics, a Miss Yippie Contest and Pin the Rubber on the Pope.

The police riot magically transformed the Yippies non-violent prank into front page news. Ironically, however, they had to share the limelight with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Violent Soviet repression of Dubcek’s freedom movement also made the front page..

Prague Spring

It’s quite common for the ruling elite and corporate media to attribute the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which ultimately bankrupted their economy. Obama’s mentor Zbigniew Brzezinski still talks about ingeniously “luring” them into an unwinnable war by training and arming the Mujahideen freedom fighters.

Kurlansky believes the 1968 Soviet’s invasion of Czechoslovakia marks the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire. The student/intellectual protest movement that brought Alexander Dubcek to power in January 1968 became less public but didn’t disappear in the government crackdown that followed the August invasion .It also served to strengthen reform movements in other Soviet Bloc countries – especially Romania and Poland – where government leaders were under pressure to condemn the invasion. In Kurlansky’s view the appearance of Soviet tanks on Czech streets killed the dream of eastern block reformers that socialism could be made more democratic.

His description of the background and personality of Alexander Dubceck, the father of “Prague Spring” is especially illuminating. Dubcek was no wild-eyed radical seeking to overthrow communism. In every respect he was the ultimate communist bureaucrat:  blindly loyal, dutiful, and deeply pro-Soviet. Dubcek and his subordinates, who considered the Soviets their friends and protectors, never dreamed they would invade.

In this respect, Czechoslovakia was unique among eastern bloc countries in voting in a communist government at the end of World War II (rather than having it forced on them).

Parallels Between Dubcek and Nixon

Dubcek, who was far more moderate than the students and intellectuals in the street, was actually somewhat dismayed at his sudden rise to power in January 1968. The student protest and Slovak nationalist movement had erupted simultaneously in late 1967, and Dubcek’s predecessor had been unable to quell the civil unrest.

Unlike many Communist Party officials, Dubcek who was deeply principled, viewed violent suppression of the protests as unthinkable. Aside from his refusal to invoke military force against the students, his situation parallels that of Richard Nixon’s in some ways. Nixon was also forced to enact a number of progressive initiatives  (e.g. the Clean Air Act, and legislation creating of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Social Security Supplemental Income for the disabled) in response to a large and militant protest movement.

Dubcek had no real platform until April 1968, when he issued an Action Program with three planks: 1) commitment to Czechoslovakia’s socialist political/economic system, 2) ending secret police repression of personal and political beliefs, and 3) ending the monopoly of power by the Communist Party.

The immediate result was liberalization of foreign travel, increased access to foreign periodicals, and media exposes about Czech and Soviet corruption and Stalin’s notorious purges. Freedom of artistic expression also increased, as Czech students and everywhere wore blue jeans and long hair, listened to rock and jazz, displayed psychedelic posters and even held an international film festival.

Soviets Forced to Keep Dubcek in Power

Brezhnev, one of Stalin’s henchmen in several purges, put extreme pressure on Dubcek to crack down on these “excesses.”  However even as Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia Dubcek, who was profoundly antiwar, explicitly ordered a robust, well-trained and armed Czech military not to fire on them. As in Tienanmen Square in China, the only opposition to the tanks was tens of thousands of unarmed civilians.

Kurlansky writes at length about an unsung hero named General Ludvik Svoboda, who the Soviets attempted to install in a puppet government after imprisoning Dubcek and three members of his cabinet. Though forced to agree to Soviet demands to gradually reinstate censorship and foreign travel restrictions, Ludvik released Dubcek and allowed him to remain in power until April 1969.

*Countries experiencing mass uprisings in 1968:

  • France
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Poland
  • Yugoslavia
  • Romania
  • Italy
  • West Germany
  • East Germany
  • Spain
  • UK
  • Russia
  • Nigeria
  • Palestine
  • Mexico
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Chile
  • Uruguay
  • US

***

Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351