"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Why You Can Now Kiss Organic Beef, Dairy And Many Vegetables Goodbye Courtesy Of Monsanto

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2011 at 11:30 am

Oldspeak:“Tom Vilsack, Obama’s agriculture secretary, used to fly around in a Monsanto corporate jet while governor of Iowa. During that same period he was also named “Governor of the Year” by the Biotechnology Industry Council. Now, the USDA rules that farmers are now free to plant Genetically Engineered (Monsanto) alfalfa, and USDA won’t even keep track of who plants it where. The implications are huge. By deregulating its first perennial crop, which happens to be a bee-pollinated plant that is the foundation for the organic dairy and beef industries, USDA is breaking ground that cannot be easily repaired.”

From Ari LeVaux @ Alter Net:

Monsanto has been trying for years to gain approval for its genetically modified Roundup-Ready alfalfa seed. On January 27, 2011, it finally got the green light in the form of “deregulation.” This means that farmers are free to plant GE alfalfa, and the USDA won’t even be keeping track of who plants it where. There will be no tracking, no notification system, and no responsibility on the part of Monsanto for any business that is lost as a result of the genetic contamination that is certain to result. If the ruling stands, we can kiss organic dairy and beef goodbye, and many organic vegetable growers will have to switch the cover crops they use on their fields.

The Center for Food Safety is planning on dragging the issue back to court, where the organization has a good track record in recent years against Monsanto, even in the notoriously business-friendly U.S. Supreme Court, which in June upheld a ban on the planting of Roundup-Ready alfalfa until the USDA drafts an environmental impact statement (EIS).

The EIS was dutifully drafted and released in December 2010. The document airs the concerns expressed by the vast majority of the 200,000-plus comments on GE alfalfa, yet somehow concludes: “…consumer preferences for organic over GE foods are influenced in part by ethical and environmental factors that are likely unrelated to minor unintended presence of GE content in feed crops.”

That’s quite a use of the word “likely”: When the organic rules were drafted in 1997, Big Ag tried very, very hard to include GE products in organic-labeled foods. In response to this attempt, USDA received over 275,000 comments against GE in organics. It was the largest number of comments USDA had ever received on a single issue. How USDA managed to conclude that consumers of organic food are likely unconcerned by contamination of organic products is a mystery — at least, until we recall that Tom Vilsack, Obama’s agriculture boss, used to fly around in a Monsanto corporate jet while governor of Iowa. During that same period he was also named “Governor of the Year” by the Biotechnology Industry Council.

Another word in the above statement that bears scrutiny is “minor,” as in “minor unintended presence of GE content in feed crops.” While it may be true that the public may in fact be OK with a little “minor” genetic contamination, there’s nothing minor about the threat posed by Roundup-Ready alfalfa.

Alfalfa is the main forage crop for dairy cows and one of the principle foods for beef cows, especially grass-fed cattle. Alfalfa is a perennial, easily lasting five years once planted. And it’s bee-pollinated, which means each year, every non-GE alfalfa plant within five miles of every GE alfalfa plant will likely be contaminated by GE genes.

According to the Organic Consumers Association, “…the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa [is] guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.”

When Tom Vilsack was named Agriculture Secretary by President Obama in late 2008, sustainable food activists felt they had been duped. The appointment followed a flood of opposition that resulted in Vilsack’s name being removed from Obama’s shortlist of USDA chiefs. This rope-a-dope took the wind out of opposition sails, and foodies let down their guard and began optimistically ruminating on who should run the agency. Then, out of the blue, Vilsack was appointed. Two years into Obama’s administration, he appears to embody Obama’s centrist approach, praising organic foods out of one side of his mouth while supporting GE foods out of the other, as if the two are separate but equal.

But the deregulation of GE alfalfa throws the possibility of coexistence out the window. And if history is any guide, the victims of genetic contamination will not only have no legal recourse, but they will face being sued by Monsanto for illegal use of its patented genes.

The battle lines drawn on the issue of GE alfalfa highlight a fracture in the organic movement that could be described as between the “haves” (well-funded, politically connected groups and businesses that have forfeited their voices for the sake of politics and money) and the “have-nots” (small, grassroots groups and individuals, unbeholden, who speak their minds). The haves include Whole Foods and other major retailers of organic food, as well as producers like Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farms.

While the decision-makers in these companies may oppose GE food in their hearts, they’ve made the calculated business decision to cave on the issue in hopes of assurance that attempts at keeping GE alfalfa separate from non-GE alfalfa will be made. According to a January 24 statement from Whole Foods, “The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well. True coexistence is a must.”

Given that public sentiment is overwhelmingly against genetically engineered food, it’s not surprising that the Monsantos and Forage Genetics of the world are against labeling. What’s telling is that retailers like Whole Foods also oppose labeling foods that have GE ingredients. Instead, the company has thrown its weight behind the effort to label foods that do not contain GE ingredients. This may sound like the same thing, but as Norman Braksick, president of Monsanto subsidiary Asgrow Seed Co., once said, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.”

The Organic Consumer Association asserts that two-thirds of Whole Foods’ product line is not organic, which means they could be contaminated by GE genes. It’s no surprise Whole Foods doesn’t want to put what amounts to a skull and crossbones on two-thirds of its products. Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy for the Organic Seed Alliance, says that while hers and other organic watchdog groups oppose GE alfalfa, it’s important to remember that conventional farmers are also put at risk by the ruling. Via email she told me:

“We believe USDA’s decision to deregulate alfalfa puts the integrity of organic and non-genetically engineered seed, and thus the integrity of organic food, at risk. While the media paints this as organic versus biotechnology, it’s important to note that conventional producers, including exporters, also feel threatened by GE alfalfa. In fact, the lead plaintiff in the alfalfa lawsuit is a conventional seed producer. I represent organic interests at OSA, but I’ve noticed that more conventional stakeholders are standing up in opposition to GE alfalfa than any other GE crop type (i.e., corn, soy, etc.) that has been deregulated.”

This is an important point, but while individual conventional farmers are among the victims of genetic contamination, the organic industry as a whole is threatened by USDA’s deregulation of GE alfalfa.

By deregulating its first perennial crop, which happens to be a bee-pollinated plant that is the foundation for the organic dairy and beef industries, USDA is breaking ground that cannot be easily repaired. Widespread genetic contamination has for years been threatening to make the entire GE discussion mute, because once everything is contaminated there will be nothing pure left to protect. In the same way, GE alfalfa threatens to make the whole idea of organic mute. Or at the very least, finally bring about the biotech industry’s long-desired change of the organic standards to include GE ingredients. Once non-GE crops become impossible to find, what choice will we have?

Ari LeVaux writes a syndicated weekly food column, Flash in the Pan.


Should The U.S. President’s ‘Internet Kill Switch’ Power Be Curbed?

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 8:41 pm

 

The US Congress hopes to curb the president's authority to order computer systems off the internet

 

Oldspeak: section 706(d) of the Communications Act could give the U.S. president wide-ranging authority to shut down key computer systems.”  Something to think about given recent events in Egypt…”Under a World War II-era law, the US president appears to have authority to disconnect computer systems and servers from the internet in the event of a national emergency.”

From By Daniel Nasaw @ BBC News:

The law was passed in 1942. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had provoked fear of a foreign invasion of US soil, and Congress responded by giving President Franklin Roosevelt broad power to commandeer or shutter telephone and telegraph networks.

Nearly 70 years later, telegraph networks have disappeared, and the telephone is only one of many means of communication.

But although the 1942 law makes no mention of the internet – merely of “any facility or station for wire communication” – the Obama administration in June told Congress it would cite it in an emergency.

It has not been tested in court, but experts say section 706(d) of the Communications Act could give the president wide-ranging authority to shut down key computer systems.

With typical Washington hyperbole, the law has become known as the presidential “internet kill switch”.

‘Clear rules needed’

The next US Congress will be under pressure to strengthen the nation’s cyber defences, and a spectrum of security analysts, internet freedom advocates and senators say lawmakers must update those emergency war powers to limit or at the very least more clearly define the president’s authority.

“The time is ripe for some articulation of this authority so we don’t have presidents going off into the wild, but actually have a set of pretty clear rules,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former homeland security official under President George W Bush, now a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Uncertainty over the interpretation of the current laws has left analysts speculating about how the president would use the “kill switch”, and to what end.

One analyst told the BBC that if, for example, computer systems at Washington’s natural gas and electric utilities became infected by a powerful internet worm, the president could order them to power down or disconnect from the internet to protect physical infrastructure, stem the infection, and allow them to be cleared.

In another hypothetical scenario described to the BBC, the president might order the shutdown of networks hosting Wall Street financial services infrastructure in order to avoid an imminent cyber attack.

‘Unlimited authority’

In both cases, the actions would have far-reaching consequences for the companies and individuals relying on the systems – for power, or to move money, analysts said.

Civil liberties campaigners are concerned at the potential for the power to be abused.

“It’s unlimited,” said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, about the president’s current power.

“They have the authority, and we’ve seen since 9/11 that the executive branch has always pushed its power to the limit.”

Privacy advocates say the law must be adjusted to ensure the president cannot use emergency war powers to snoop improperly on Americans’ e-mail or other information.

It is unclear whether the disconnection of US networks would affect the internet elsewhere in the world, aside from blocking users from, say, a popular web page or service, technical experts say.

But Greg Nojeim, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said there was “a high risk” of “a spillover effect in other countries”.

However, it is nigh on impossible for the US president – or any single actor – to shut down the whole internet – a virtue of its globally distributed nature, analysts say.

“There’s no plug to be pulled,” John Kneuer, a former telecommunications policy official under President Bush, told the BBC.

Stuxnet feared

Among several shortcomings in the 1942 law’s application to the online world, it does not specify what constitutes cyber war – as opposed to a commercial hacking job. Nor is it even clear the law would treat a cyber attack by a foreign power as an act of war – a precondition of the president’s use of the emergency powers.

Nevertheless, the debate over the president’s cyber war authority comes amid growing evidence that nations are deploying cyber weapons against adversaries.

The powerful internet worm Stuxnet, discovered this year to have infected computers across the globe, appears to have been designed specifically to target Iranian nuclear sites, causing alarm within the US and UK governments. Some analysts say it was so sophisticated it could only have been launched by a sovereign nation state.

In all, attacks on US government facilities this year topped 1.8 billion per month, according to the US Senate sergeant-at-arms.

US officials also fear cyber attacks on the private sector, which operates as much as 85% of the nation’s critical infrastructure – power plants, major internet service providers, telephone companies and more.

The bipartisan group of US senators currently engaged in rewriting many US cyber security laws is keenly aware of the threat posed by such attacks. But the senators argue the president’s emergency war powers must be better defined and delimited.

Legislation backed by Senators Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, would allow the president to declare a “national cyber emergency” and permit the administration to direct a threatened system’s operators to take action. The government would have to ensure the mandatory emergency measures were “the least disruptive means feasible”.

No advance warning

“The president’s authority to deal with a catastrophic cyber attack aimed at critical infrastructure would be carefully defined – and constrained,” Ms Collins said last week. “The president would not have the authority to take over critical infrastructure.”

Some question the need for emergency presidential cyber authority.

Greg Nojeim says internet companies are better equipped than the government to decide whether to shut down their systems or remove them from the internet.

“Nobody has yet identified an actual real life circumstance in which an owner or operator decided not to isolate a network and the government thought it should be isolated,” he said.

James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, questions whether emergency shut-down power would be effective considering internet worms are usually discovered after they have struck.

“We almost never have advance warning,” he said.


The Wrong Friends: The Uncomfortable Lesson Of The Uprisings In The Middle East

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm

 

Demonstrators burn a poster of former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali while protesting out front of the Prime Minister's office in Tunis, Tunisia, Jan. 24, 2011. Gen. Rachid Ammar, a general who may be both the most powerful and the most popular figure in Tunisia spoke publicly Monday for the first time since the ouster of the former dictator Ben Ali. Gen. Rachid Ammar. He pledged to uphold "the revolution" and urged patience until the interim government can hold new elections.

 

Oldspeak: “Today, many Arabs believe that Western exhortations of religious tolerance and democracy are a cover for attempts at political control. A sounder US policy towards Middle Eastern governance would be one that considers what the people there truly want, not on our terms, but on theirs — whether secular or not.”

From David Mednicoff @ The New York Times:

In a region prone to religious violence and sorely lacking in democratic government, the thinking goes, it is secular regimes that hold the most promise for change, and have been the easiest for us to support. Though perhaps never stated in such simple terms, this thinking underlies much of our diplomacy and analysis of a volatile and strategically important region.

It’s easy to see why: A secular government is more like a modern Western democracy, and a better fit with our own tradition of separating church and state. We tend to believe that even if secular Arab regimes are oppressive, they represent at least a small step toward a more modern, stable, and democratic future for the region. Washington has funneled its greatest Arab aid to secular strongmen like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who openly trumpet the need to squelch Islamic political movements. It has dealt more warily with Islamic monarchies like Saudi Arabia.

But can today’s secular governments really be the basis for a stable Middle East? The recent overthrow of the president of Tunisia suggests an uncomfortable answer. The Tunisian revolution was the biggest political news in the Arab world in years, triggering wide speculation on its deeper causes and how much it will spread to other countries. But one thing is undeniable: In a region full of monarchies and other unelected regimes, the government that fell — the one government unable to maintain enough hold on the public to weather a crisis — was the most secular one.

For over four decades, Tunisia’s political leadership looked, if not like a model regime, then at least like a step in the right direction. Habib Bourguiba, its first independent leader, banished religion from a role in the state and actively promoted women’s rights and education. Since ousting Bourguiba in 1987, ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali attracted Western ties and tourists, consistently fighting Islamism and raising fears about its influence. Despite an impressive general record of economic achievement, Ben Ali has just become the first modern Arab leader to be ousted through popular mobilization. In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, another secular regime struggles to fend off the seething anger of its people. And in secular Algeria and Yemen, copycat protests may be setting the stage for similar widespread demonstrations.

This rising tide of mass protests against Arab secular strongmen urges us to think again about the role of Islam and government. Decades of Western policy have pushed Middle Eastern governments toward secular reforms. But a more nuanced view of the region — one that values authenticity as much as Western dogma — suggests something different. If we are concerned about stability, balance, even openness, it may be Arab Islamic governments that offer a better route to those goals.

To most Western thinkers, suggesting a role for religion in government seems to be sailing against the wind of history. Europe’s rise to industrial greatness, democracy, and global power came in the wake of deliberate secularization. Part of the enduring appeal of the American dream is its religious tolerance. Russia, China, and the rest of East Asia have all flourished economically, if undemocratically, under secular rule.

Yet the examples in the Arab world look very different. The Middle East and North Africa is the world region most lacking in democratic government, tempting policy makers to imagine that positive change, as it has elsewhere, will go hand-in-hand with secularization. But the Middle East is also the origin and heartland of Islam, a faith sustained in part through its ability to serve as a political order as well as a religious belief. Unlike Americans, who may be deeply religious but are also raised to believe in separate realms of church and state, many quite moderate Muslims see nothing strange in the notion of a government fully infused with religious purpose.

Survey research in the Arab world, such as the University of Michigan’s Arab Barometer project, has found that respondents generally consider themselves Muslims above other markers of identity, including national citizenship. As a result, Islam isn’t just a feature of a national government; for many citizens, it may be as important as the idea of the nation itself. By forcing Islam out of state politics, as Tunisia did, the government can actually reduce its own legitimacy in the eyes of the people, leaving it vulnerable and forcing it to lean more heavily on the machinery of a police state.

One implication unsettling for many Westerners is that democracy in the Middle East might look very different from democracy in the West. In a global poll known as the World Values Survey, the vast majority of citizens of countries as diverse as Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan argue that state politics should be based on Islam’s system of jurisprudence known as the sharia. Similarly strong support exists for the proposition that Arab officials should be good Muslims. Secular regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have stayed in place through military force and fear.

If citizens were allowed to choose, as they almost could before the army intervened in Algeria in 1992, they might vote for something that looks very different than our idea of a modern pluralistic government. But it might be insulated from the kind of instability and uncertainty we have seen recently. When Tunisians took to the streets this month, part of what motivated them was moral outrage about the corruption of their secular president’s family and cronies. Good Muslim leaders might not ignore their religion’s calls for social justice by so gross a level of stealing public funds.

The uncomfortable fact for Western policy makers is that Arab traditional monarchies have fared much better in recent decades than secular republics: With at least a toehold in Islamic political tradition, monarchies have been able to weather crises and enjoy stable transitions between leaders. And although it’s common to lump all Arab governments together, whether conservative Muslim states like Saudi Arabia or police states like Syria, in fact the stability and popular legitimacy of an Islamic monarchy can allow for something surprising: modern openness.

For example, Morocco holds yearly allegiance ceremonies confirming the king with titular status as head of the national religious community, dramatizing his legitimacy as a traditional leader. But over the years, Morocco has also accommodated religious opposition and debate. The country is one of the last Arab bastions of an autonomous, open Jewish community. Since independence in 1956, it has had the most and freest political parties in the Arab world. And Morocco’s Arab monarchical peers to the East, countries like Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have become centers of global culture, education, media, and tourism in recent years. The small kingdom of Qatar will be the first Middle Eastern state to host the World Cup, in 2022.

Arab kings can act as a calming buffer between popular citizen demands and state institutions. Their relative legitimacy has allowed them to trim their repressive security apparatus, in comparison with states like Tunisia. Generally, monarchies rank highest among Arab states on global measures of good governance such as Freedom House’s index of freedom and the World Bank’s rule of law indicator. Morocco is the only Middle Eastern state to establish a national commission to acknowledge and redress previous human rights violations. By contrast, the mass killings of secular rulers like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez el-Asad in Syria have nothing like a parallel in post-colonial Arab royal history.

If we think of “modern” governments as those that can accommodate change, freedom, and pluralism, then Islamic monarchies have satisfied this definition much more than secular republics in recent years. Certainly the thousands of protesters in Tunisia in the last month, and in Egypt at the moment, haven’t seemed impressed with the achievements of their secularist leaders.

In fact, Arab monarchies that simulate aspects of the political Islamic past are not only comparatively stable, but better bets for controlled transitions to free governments. Recent global experience suggests that, despite the much-publicized intolerance of extremists, Islamic political ideas are compatible with democracy. Arab Islam’s long history provides many concepts that resemble, without duplicating, Western democratic practices, such as town meeting (“majlis”) and representative consultation (“shura”). Indeed, today’s Arab kings have adapted such ideas to negotiate and build consensus around important policies. And there is ample evidence that Islamist political opposition parties compete fairly in Arab elections, when they are allowed to do so.

Washington’s understandable concern about particularly aggressive manifestations of Islam such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban — and the anti-Americanism of Iran’s Islamic revolution — has pushed us to hold almost monolithic views about the general nature of Muslim politics. But the bleak record of secular Middle Eastern states suggests that a sounder policy would be one more open to Islamic models of rule like Morocco and Qatar — nations sufficiently inoculated against direct attacks in the name of Islam that they can create public space for liberal education and open media. Such public space has already borne fruit in the form of increasing religious, secular, and mixed alternatives to express political views.

Secular plural democracy developed in the West through a gradual process of disentangling the rigid links between state institutions and religion. Yet religious belief endured. Islamist monarchies have birthed cosmopolitan societies, such as in Dubai, and influential independent media empires, like Al-Jazeera in Qatar. When they are flexible, these monarchies may well be the midwives of a comparable, steady process of democratization that is appropriate to contemporary Arab Islam.

By thinking more broadly about the progressive potential for Islamic politics in the Middle East, the West may reap another benefit. Viewed from the region, American intervention doesn’t look nearly as benevolent as Americans may imagine, and this has magnified a widespread view that Western powers fail to practice the ideals of freedom that they preach. Today, many Arabs believe that Western exhortations of religious tolerance and democracy are a cover for attempts at political control. A sounder US policy towards Middle Eastern governance would be one that considers what the people there truly want, not on our terms, but on theirs — whether secular or not.

David Mednicoff is a professor in public policy and social and political thought at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a research fellow at the Dubai Initiative at the Kennedy School at Harvard, and a former Fulbright Scholar to Morocco and Qatar.

 

Manifest Haiti: Monsanto’s Destiny

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm

 

Rural Haitian farmers gathered in Papaye, June 4, 2010. Many wore straw hats reading, "Aba Monsanto - down with Monsanto and Aba Preval - down with Preval.

 

Oldspeak:”The things Monsanto’s “Terminator Seed” and other “Genetically Modified Organisms” claimed to be “food” are good for: Agricultural slavery, engendering disease, chemical poisoning and destruction of  soil and anything that consumes what grows out of said soil, poverty, debt, reduced biodiversity. Haitians have demonstrated no desire to use Monsanto’s products; burning donated seeds in protest. Yet Monsanto continues to push their toxic waste via the Foreign controlled Haitian Government on Haitian farmers under the guise of “Disaster Relief.” No funds released for reconstruction or reconstituting sustainable native controlled farming, just a flood of  toxic, edible, “Colateralized Debt Obligations”.

From Ryan Stock @ Truthout:

Let It Burn

“A fabulous Easter gift,” commented Monsanto Director of Development Initiatives Elizabeth Vancil. Nearly 60,000 seed sacks of hybrid corn seeds and other vegetable seeds were donated to post-earthquake Haiti by Monsanto. In observance of World Environment Day, June 4, 2010, roughly 10,000 rural Haitian farmers gathered in Papaye to march seven kilometers to Hinche in celebration of this gift. Upon arrival, these rewarded farmers took their collective Easter baskets of more than 400 tons of vegetable seeds and burned them all.[i] “Long live the native maize seed!” they chanted in unison. “Monsanto’s GMO [genetically modified organism] & hybrid seed violate peasant agriculture!”

According to Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, coordinator of the Papay Peasant Movement (MPP), “there is presently a shortage of seed in Haiti because many rural families used their maize seed to feed refugees.”[ii] Like any benevolent disaster capitalist corporation, Monsanto extended a hand in a time of crisis to the 65 percent of the population that survives off of subsistence agriculture. But not just any hand was extended in this time of great need, rather: a fistful of seeds. The extended fist was full of corn seeds, one of Haiti’s staple crops, treated with the fungicide Maxim XO. With similar benevolence, not just any tomato seeds were donated to the agrarian peasants, but tomato seeds treated with Thiram, a chemical so toxic the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ruled it too toxic to sell for home garden use, further mandating that any agricultural worker planting these seeds must wear special protective clothing.[iii] Happy Easter! Monsanto’s web site’s official explanation for this toxic donation is that “fungicidal seed treatments are often applied to seeds prior to planting to protect them from fungal diseases that arise in the soil and hamper the plant’s ability to germinate and grow. The treatments also provide protection against diseases the seed might pick up in transfer between countries.”[iv] However, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, “repeated exposure [to Thiram] can affect the kidneys, liver and thyroid gland. High or repeated exposure may damage the nerves.”[v] Why would Monsanto be so eager to donate seeds that could potentially compromise the health of so many famished people?

“The Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals!” stated Jean-Baptiste. Welcome to the new earthquake.

“[It’s] a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds … and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.” – Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, executive director of the Peasant Movement of Papay.

A Brief History of Violence

Monsanto is also responsible for other life-changing inventions, such as the crowd-pleasing Agent Orange. The Vietnamese government claims that it killed or disabled 400,000 Vietnamese people, and 500,000 children were born with birth defects due to exposure to this deadly chemical.[vi] Up until 2000, Monsanto was also the main manufacturer of aspartame, which researchers in Europe concluded, “could have carcinogenic effects.”  In a rare demonstration of social justice, in 2005, Monsanto was found guilty by the US government of bribing high-level Indonesian officials to legalize genetically-modified cotton. A year earlier in Brazil, Monsanto sold a farm to a senator for one-third of its value in exchange for his work to legalize glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.[vii] In Colombia, Monsanto has received $25 million from the US government for providing its trademark herbicide, Roundup Ultra, in the anti-drug fumigation efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide, with additional ingredients to increase its lethality. Colombian communities and human rights organizations have charged that the herbicide has destroyed food crops, water sources and protected areas and has led to increased incidents of birth defects and cancer.

With more than 11.7 billion dollars in sales in 2009 and more than 650 biotechnology patents – most of them for cotton, corn and soy – Monsanto is an economic powerhouse. Nine out of ten soybean seeds in the US are also linked to Monsanto. Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half the world’s seeds with no effective anti-trust oversight. One of the world’s most powerful corporations, Monsanto teamed up with United Parcel Service to have the 60,000 hybrid seed sacks transported to their intended destination for Easter 2010 in its drive to trickle down some good to the little guys. Distributing Monsanto’s seeds on this auspicious occasion was a $127 million project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), called “Winner,” designed to promote “agricultural intensification.”[viii] According to Monsanto, the original decision to donate seeds was made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,[ix] unbeknownst to Haiti.

“Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” -Monsanto’s former motto.

The genetically-modified seeds such as those donated and later immolated, cannot be saved from year to year. Some so-called terminator seeds – the DNA of which is altered so as to not drop seed after harvest – require the farmer to buy new seeds from Monsanto the following year in a legally binding contract, instead of collecting the seeds that would have naturally developed on the plant before its DNA was modified. Other GMO seed which do drop fertile seed may not be replanted by contract. Diminished yields, health problems and weakened prospects to buy the next season’s seeds in consequence of and combined with that binding contract with Monsanto have driven many rural farmers to poverty, and subsequently led to a rash of farmer suicides in rural India. Since 1997, more than 182,936 Indian farmers have committed suicide, according to a recent study by the National Crime Records Bureau.[x]“As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness. As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide,” Indian author Vandana Shiva noted in her 2004 article “The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation.”[xi]

Foreign farmers are not the only ones affected by these product features and associated business practices. As of 2007, Monsanto had filed 112 lawsuits against US farmers for alleged technology contract violations on GMO patents, involving 372 farmers and 49 small agricultural businesses in 27 different states. From these, Monsanto has won more than $21.5 million in judgments. In estimates based on Monsanto’s own documents and media reports, the multinational corporation appears to investigate 500 farmers a year.[xii] “Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else’s genetically engineered crop [or] when genetically engineered seed from a previous year’s crop has sprouted, or ‘volunteered,’ in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year,” said Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.[xiii] A Monsanto seed will often magically appear in an ordinarily organic field, giving Monsanto grounds for an onerous lawsuit that will eventually lead to the complete occupation of the innocent farm.

Nothing New Under the Caribbean Sun

Jean-Robert Estimé, who served as Foreign Minister during the murderous Duvalier dictatorships, is Monsanto’s representative in Haiti,[xiv] and refuses to acknowledge his involvement in furthering the impoverishment of his own people. However, Monsanto’s “Manifest Destiny”-like intentions for Haiti are hardly anything new. Many Haitians consider Monsanto’s seed donation to be part of a broader strategy of US economic and political imperialism. Haiti’s agricultural sector has already been decimated by United States’ interference once. Jean Bertrande Aristide was overthrown by a coup supported by the US government in 1991. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund collectively decided that if he were to return to power, a condition upon his return would be that he open the country to free trade. Shortly thereafter, the tariffs on rice fell from 35 percent to 3 percent and the money that was originally reserved for agricultural development went into paying off the country’s external debt. Under the Clinton White House, the Haitian market was flooded with subsidized rice from Arkansas. Since then, almost all of Haiti’s rice is imported and subsequently, much of that local knowledge and expertise of rice cultivation is lost.[xv]

Food Sovereignty, Not Agricultural Slavery

As the new earthquake continues to shake, this seemingly benevolent donation of vegetable seeds will forever change the paradigm of Haitian agriculture and thus lead to its further dependence on seeds that poison both the soil they are grown in and the bodies that consume them and that create financial dependency on the biotechnology firm Monsanto. “Our people will never be autonomous if Haiti has to suffer through what is called generosity, but makes us dependent on corporate control in agricultural production,” said Catherine Thélémaque of Action SOS Haiti in Montreal.[xvi] Agroecologists Ivette Perfecto and John Vandermeer, at the University of Michigan, have recently published a study showing that sustainable, small-scale farming is more efficient at conserving and increasing biodiversity and forests than industrial agriculture.[xvii] With less than 1 percent of its original forest coverage remaining, Haiti cannot gamble on the disastrous environmental effects of hybridized industrial monoculture to feed its many hungry. “If the US government truly wants to help Haiti, it would help the Haitians to build food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, based on their own native seed and access to land and credit. That is the way to help Haiti,” says Dena Hoff, a diversified organic farmer in Montana and member of Via Campesina’s International Coordinating Committee.

The Impending Storm

In his 1780 History of European Colonization, Guillame Raynal remarked that there were signs of an “impending storm.”[xviii] This storm erupted into a full-fledged monsoon on August 22, 1791, when Dutty Boukman sounded the conch shell and the slaves of Saint Domingue rose in revolt against the French imperialists. Under the leadership of Touissant L’Overture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the slave rebels overthrew the imperialist occupation of Napoleon Bonaparte and in 1804, Haiti was declared a free republic. Lest we forget the lessons of history, we cannot discount the power of unity. Much as Napoleon himself did, a tyrannical corporation such as Monsanto exports poverty, would keep the people as agricultural slaves and must be resisted. It’s time for Boukman to sound his conch once more: La liberté ou la mort!

Footnotes:

i. Bell, Beverly. “Haitian farmers commit to burning Monsanto hybrid seed.” Huffington Post, May 17, 2010.

ii. La Via Campesina, “Haitian peasants march against Monsanto Company for food and seed sovereignty,” June 16,2010.

iii. Extension Toxicology Network, Pesticide Information Project of the Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University and University of California at Davis.

iv. Veihman, Mica. “Five Answers on Monsanto’s Haiti Seed Donation,” Beyond the Rows, May 20, 2010.

v. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. “Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet.”

vi. MSNBC, “Study Finds Link Between Agent Orange, Cancer,” January 23, 2004, The Globe and Mail, “Last Ghost of the Vietnam War,” June 12, 2008.

vii. Kenfield, Isabella, “Monsanto’s seed of corruption in Brazil.” North American Congress on Latin America, October 16, 2010.

viii. PR Newswire. “Monsanto Company Donates Conventional Maizeand Vegetable Seed to Haitian Farmers to Help Address Food Security Needs,” May 13, 2010.

ix. Monsanto Company, “Monsanto donates maizeand vegetable seed to Haiti.” Monsanto Blog, May 13, 2010.

x. Shiva, Vandana, “The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation.” ZNet, February 19, 2004.

xi. Chopra, Anuj, “Debt drives farmers to suicide.” The National, January 20, 2009.

xii. Center for Food Safety, “Monsanto vs. US Farmers,” Nov. 2007.

xiii. Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson, “Monsanto vs. US Farmers,” Center for Food Safety, 2005.

xiv. Urfie, Fr. Jean-Yves, “A new earthquake hits Haiti: Monsanto’s deadly gift of 475 tons of genetically-modified seed to Haitian farmers.” Global Research. Canada. May 11, 2010.

xv. Holt-Gimenez, Eric. “Haiti: roots of liberty, roots of disaster.” Huffington Post, January 21 2010.

xvi. Organic Consumers Association. “Canadian Groups Support Haitian Rejection of Monsanto’s Seed Donation,” June 3, 2010.

xvii. University of Michigan. “SNRE Professor Perfecto co-authors PNAS paper on family farms, biodiversity and food production.” Ann Arbor, Michigan,February 22, 2010.

xviii. Center and Hunt, “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,” 119.

Author’s Note:

I regret some inaccuracies included in this article, and attempt to correct them here:

In speaking with a representative from the Peasant Movement of Papay’s office in Brooklyn New York, I learned the particular peasants mentioned in this article initially burned several pounds of seeds in protest of Monsanto, though have yet to burn all of the seeds in their entirety. This initial seed burning was mainly symbolic, and used to bolster a movement against the agribusiness multinational.

Monsanto donated its hybrid and GMO seeds to the Haitian government, which then attempted to sell the seeds to Haitian farmers. Monsanto did not donate the seeds to the peasant farmers themselves. I was told by MPP’s representative that many of the seeds were not planted in the Central Plateau, where the protest took place. Only very few of the seeds were planted in the Port-au-Prince area. As many of the seeds are “terminator seeds”, the question remains whether they will still be suitable for planting during this year’s planting season.

For more information regarding the Peasant Movement of Papay, please visit their official website at: http://www.mpphaiti.org/



“Winning The Future…” For Whom?

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Oldspeak:

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

-Langston Hughes, “Democracy,” 1949

Is it possible that our president, who spoke so ardently of national transformation just two years ago, could be equating democracy with its opposite – the kind of “principled compromise” between the few that tosses the needs of the many to the wind?”

From Maya Schenwar @ Truthout:

Last Saturday, as an inadvertent prelude to the State of the Union address, I visited my sister in Gary, Indiana, widely known as one of the worst places in the country to live. (The rumors don’t lie – in fact, Gary was featured in the History Channel’s “Life After People” series as a glimpse of what Chicago would look like after the extinction of the human race.)

My sister lives off of Grant Street, in a trailer park next to a junk car lot, along a set of railroad tracks that are rarely graced with the rumble of a train. Perched on the side of the tracks is a small wooden marker circled by balloons and plastic flowers, a memorial for a child from the trailer park who died at the spot.

Grant Street, home of the bar where the Jackson Five played its first gig, is now lined with boarded-up storefronts and decaying homes. The car lot is one of the few businesses whose lights are still on, and it’s frequented by jobless Garyites (my sister included) looking to pick up scrap metal for a few dollars per day.

We crowd into my sister’s trailer. A neighbor drifts in to store food in her refrigerator – his electricity has been shut off – and she tells us of park residents who don’t have water, others who don’t have heat. (It’s currently 6 degrees outside, and dropping.)

Public transportation in Gary barely deserves the label. A bus is scheduled to circle through every hour on Grant Street, but we never see one, and my sister says it sometimes never arrives. In a place where public services are needed more desperately than almost anywhere else in the country, many people are cut off from jobs not only because of the ghastly state of the economy, but because they’re rendered functionally immobile.

Many of Gary’s residents are, in essence, politically invisible: A host of Gary-area voters were purged from the rolls in recent elections, for reasons that remain unclear. Beyond that, thousands of potential voters are incarcerated, or simply eschew the political system because their energy is funneled into fulfilling basic needs. When the heat is off and the tap runs dry, waiting hours for a bus downtown to procure a state ID often ranks low on the to-do list.

The recession didn’t do this to Gary; it’s been on the downswing ever since the steel industry started waning (not long after the city was memorialized as the not-to-be-beat hometown of “The Music Man”‘s Harold Hill). The recession just hammered in the nail of hopelessness, as it did for many, many cities – and for millions of vulnerable people – across this country.

But the White House isn’t seeing Gary, or any of those other places where basic necessities are truly scarce, where jobs are so few and fleeting that many have simply stopped looking, where hope for a hand from the government is dying or dead. And in his State of the Union address, Obama made that vast oversight – or, perhaps, that triangulation-driven choice of calculated neglect – abundantly clear.

In the rousing SOTU, Obama spoke of “winning the future” through innovation: supercomputers that squeeze extra mileage out of nuclear plants, applications that allow firefighters to download designs onto their handhelds, the wonders of near-universal high-speed wireless Internet access. But in a country where one in three Americans don’t earn enough to cover their minimum expenses, the president didn’t utter a substantive word about the poor.

“In America,” Obama told us, “innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.”

If only every American had that option.

It’s debatable whether America is the “greatest nation on Earth” (as the president assured us it was in nearly every bullet point of his speech), but one thing is for certain: this country is chockfull of poor people, and most of them are not yearning for a “face-to-face video chat” with their doctor. They’re lucky if they can see one at all, let alone the same doctor twice in a row. Most of them are not small business owners who dream of “selling their products all over the world.” Many just want a job that’s more reliable than collecting scrap metal by the side of an abandoned main street.

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In his State of the Union, Obama did allude to the existence of some unmentioned “others.” “We may have different backgrounds,” he said, “but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything’s possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.”

However, the president seems to have forgotten a large and growing contingent of Americans: those who no longer share that dream of boundless possibility, because their government is not providing them with any proof that it might come true.

In fact, when President Obama spoke most forcefully of uniting our shared desires – of “coming together” – he was referring to a freeze on domestic spending, including funding for some of the very social programs that could begin pulling places like Gary out of the hole. (“I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs,” he said, and my heart sank.)

The president spoke of our “democracy” as “contentious and frustrating and messy,” but ultimately, the element that sets us apart from – and above – the rest of the world.

So, in the context of the State of the Union, and of Washingtonspeak on the whole, what does “democracy” mean? This brand of “democracy” certainly does not include the voices of the poor – the people who are disenfranchised due to their lack of access to basic necessities, the people who, more than anyone, need their government to care. This spectacle of contention and frustration and mess is ultimately a battle between a narrow sliver of very similar perspectives.

Obama’s call to action on deficit reduction, which encapsulates the message of much of the rest of his speech, provides a glimpse of the White House’s grand democratic vision:

Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done.”

Does “working together,” then, connote simply uniting the voices and interests of “moderate” Republicans and “centrist” Democrats, in Congress and in corporate America?

In his 1949 poem, “Democracy,” Langston Hughes points to a truth that reverberates eerily these 62 years later: “Democracy will not come/Today, this year/Nor ever/Through compromise and fear.”

Is it possible that our president, who spoke so ardently of national transformation just two years ago, could be equating democracy with its opposite – the kind of “principled compromise” between the few that tosses the needs of the many to the wind?

This is the logic of the December tax deal, which granted the wishes of the wealthy while according the not-so-wealthy barely a vague acknowledgment of their interests. It’s the logic of Congress’s refusal to even begin debate on the Employee Free Choice Act and a slew of sorely needed labor reforms. It’s a logic that rings hollow and discordant in places like Gary, Indiana, and it sure isn’t the logic of democracy.

We must not let ourselves fall prey to this degraded conception of democracy: a decisionmaking process that brings together the weakest, narrowest, least courageous impulses of humanity, and operates on the grounds that participants abandon their highest ideals – along with the urgent needs of vast swaths of society.

A real democracy represents Gary, Indiana as boldly as it represents Washington, DC.

“The idea of America endures,” the president concluded Tuesday night, against the backdrop of a near-teary John Boehner. “Our destiny remains our choice.”

The question is, for whom does the exalted idea endure? And who is the “our” whose “choice” is deciding America’s destiny?


Is America Too Corrupt To Keep Up?

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2011 at 11:22 am

Oldspeak:”Short answer? Yes. With bought and paid for politicians and elected officials as the rule; government regulators captured and controlled by the industries they supposedly regulate; large parts of vital sectors of the economy exported overseas under the direction of american corporations who’ve repeatedly demonstrated little to no allegiance or desire to invest in their homeland; America’s corruption is pervasive and profound.”

From David Sirota @ Truthdig:

A sovereign nation investing its wealth in its domestic economy seems like a no-brainer, especially during a global recession. But in this crazy age of American politics, even that has become a controversial notion.

This is the subtext of a dispute that simmered beneath the pomp and circumstance of this week’s U.S.-China summit. As The New York Times previously reported, the Obama administration is calling on the World Trade Organization to use its power to halt the Chinese government’s wind-energy fund specifically because the money is “contingent on … manufacturers using parts made in China rather than foreign-made components.” The program, along with the Chinese regime’s broader domestic procurement requirements for wind farms, have helped the Chinese wind industry capture almost half of the global market for turbines.

Setting aside the bilateral wrangling over WTO arcana, China’s industrial policy success carries a basic lesson: When a nation couples public spending with incentives that encourage domestic corporate investment, an economy tends to grow its own wealth-building industries. That’s simple enough to understand, right?

Evidently, not within our own government. As “Buy China” policies now economically supercharge the world’s most populous nation, the White House and congressional Republicans have opposed many of the very “Buy America” proposals that might help us keep up—and that obstruction has come at a steep price.

Remember, Businessweek in 2008 warned that in an America with few domestic purchasing mandates, any economic stimulus—whether spending or tax cuts—would likely “leak” abroad, thus “reducing its impact on jobs here.” When congressional Democrats responded in 2009 by trying to expand the meager “Buy America” regulations still on the books from the Great Depression, President Obama opposed the effort. He argued that targeting stimulus dollars at domestic investment would “send a protectionist message.”

Following his salvo, Congress blocked the initiative and—big shocker!—a year later, ABC News was reporting that between 54 percent and 79 percent of the money in the stimulus bill’s key wind energy program had been spent overseas.

How could this happen? In a country of “USA!”-chanting sports crowds, flag-waving rallies and saber-rattling political rhetoric, why haven’t our lawmakers passed muscular “Buy America” statutes that might compete with the “Buy China” policies?

Not surprisingly, it all goes back to the principle that patriotism may play well with voters on the campaign trail, but corporate cash ultimately rules the day in our nation’s capital.

As Bloomberg News reported during the stimulus negotiations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce fiercely lobbied against the “Buy America” provisions when Congress debated them, just as the group lobbies against similar proposals today. That may seem strange coming from an organization whose name pays homage to this country. But don’t be fooled: The chamber is a front group for huge multinational firms whose first priority is not this nation’s economy, but a profit-maximizing business model based on exporting jobs and production facilities to low-wage countries abroad. Those firms, of course, make massive campaign contributions to both parties and such donations come with the expectation of legislative favors—like, say, killing initiatives to strengthen “Buy America” laws.

Thus, our current position of humiliating weakness. Here we are, supposedly the world’s most powerful country, begging the WTO to intervene on our behalf so as to prevent an economic competitor from making basic investments in its own economy. And we’re doing this all because our political system is too corrupt to permit a similarly competitive posture here at home.

Considering that sad reality, when Americans see the next wave of bad unemployment news and mass layoffs and want to know who is responsible, we shouldn’t shake our fists at communists in Beijing; we should look directly at our own leaders in Washington.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.


The Stakes Are Huge: There’s Another Bank Crash Looming, And We Must Prevent Another Bailout

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Oldspeak:“To once again bail out the bankers, this time by changing real estate law in a way that hasn’t been done since the 1670s, would be a far bigger deal than even the trillions in bailout dollars the TARP and Fed gave these banks in 2008/9. But the bankers and their allies…will try to present this as a simple fix to some minor paperwork problems….But they have made a Texas-sized mess of the entire mortgage title system in their haste to make money, and it is time to pay the piper.”

From Mike Lux @ Open Left:

Everything I am reading these days on financial issues points to some serious reckoning soon to come, especially because of — as the folks at Third Way are calling it — foreclosure-gate. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling in the Ibanez case, along with a growing body of cases where the banks and/or their servicers have been ruled against in foreclosure cases, and even the banks’ lawyers are being castigated in court by judges for bringing in made-up paperwork, is causing a growing sense of panic among the biggest banks that hold the most mortgages. Spokespeople for the banks are talking bravely, trying to dismiss the situation as some minor paperwork errors, but everyone who has been paying attention to the situation fears that there are really big consequences afoot.

The plain fact is that over the last decade, in their overwhelming rush to make bigger and bigger profits from trading in the bubble-driven real estate securities market, the banks ran roughshod over the home mortgage and title system that had served this country (and England and many others) quite well for hundreds of years — and they made a serious mess of it. Because of the way these mortgages have been sliced and diced and sold into complicated securities, homeowners, judges, and the banks themselves are having quite a bit of trouble figuring out who actually owns the note in more cases than is easy to believe. The “paperwork” — figuring out who owns the note – is not just a little messed up, it is a disaster area.

This wouldn’t be as big a deal except that the combination of the housing bubble itself plus the worst recession since the Great Depression (caused in great part by that bubble) has created a foreclosure crisis of gargantuan proportions. Millions of homeowners are in foreclosure proceedings, millions more underwater because of the collapse of housing prices. And because the banks have cooked their books, not wanting all these toxic assets to wreak havoc with their official valuation and their stock prices, they have no interest in helping homeowners stay in their homes by writing down these mortgages to current market levels. So banks are moving to foreclose these millions of homes, but they can’t prove to judges that they even own the notes that would allow them to foreclose. Thus you have robo-signers, falsified affidavits, and all kinds of strange things being presented to judges in courts. The judges who are not bought and paid for by the banks are raising big red flags about all this, and thus you have cases like Ibanez going against the banks.

This is a mess not just for the housing market but for the entire economy, as the numbers on all this are staggering, and the housing market really does have the potential to just completely freeze up, which would be an economic nightmare. Our economy has no chance of getting dramatically better until the housing market starts moving again. So the banks are now going to their political allies, just like they did in 2008, and telling them: unless you save us from the mess that we’ve created (oh, wait, they don’t use those last four words, instead it’s the unforeseeable “perfect storm”, “black swan” thing), we will go under and take the entire economy down with us. The good news for the banks is they are not necessarily looking for a cash handout this time – although it may come to that – but just some legal “tweaking” of this “minor paperwork problem.”

If you have the stomach for it and want to learn more about the gory details about the policy side of all this, there are a bunch of good writers you can turn to, including Yves SmithDavid Dayen, and Marcy Wheeler, all of whom have put up great pieces worth looking at in the last couple of days.Numerian has a great post I have already linked to a couple times in past pieces this week on the truly scary implications of what is going down.

But my focus, as usual, is on the politics of all this, because the drumbeat is beginning in a big way to bail out the bankers from their own mess once again. Third Way’s piece, which Yves, David, and Marcy do a good job deconstructing, is the opening shot in what will be a very focused legislative push to once again bail out the bankers from their own mess. The banks and their allies will try to do this as quickly and quietly as they can, portraying it as a simple legal fix for minor paperwork problems. However, the consequences of this kind of legal bailout are actually far greater in some ways than the TARP bailout, as costly as that was. The TARP bailout was just dollars though. This one, as Yves writes, undermines fundamental property law that our entire economic system is based on:

This proposal guts state control of their own real estate law when the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that “dirt law” is not a Federal matter. It strips homeowners of their right to their day in court to preserve their contractual rights, namely, that only the proven mortgagee, and not a gangster, or in this case, bankster, can take possession of their home.
This sort of protection is fundamental to the operation of capitalism, so it’s astonishing to see neoliberals so willing to throw it under the bus to preserve the balance sheets of the TBTF banks. Readers may recall how we came to have this sort of legal protection in the first place. England learned the hard way in the 17th century what happens with low documentation requirements: abuse of court procedures, perjury and corruption become the norm. Parliament enacted the 1677 Statute of Fraudsto establish higher standards for contracts, such as witnessing by a third party, to stop the widespread theft of property that was underway.

The memo completely ignores the harm to investors from the bank mistakes and lacks any provisions for damage to investors to be remedied. Moreover, denying borrower rights removes their leverage to obtain deep principal mortgage modifications, which for viable borrowers produces lower losses than costly foreclosures and sales of distressed property. Thus this shredding of contractual protections in mortgages not only hurts borrowers but also harms investors.

So to save the banks from their own, colossal abuses of contracts that they devised, the Third Way document advocates Congressional intervention into well established, well functioning state law. This is a case where these matters can and should be left to the courts and ultimately state AGs to coordinate the template of a more broadbased solution.

To once again bail out the bankers, this time by changing real estate law in a way that hasn’t been done since the 1670s, would be a far bigger deal than even the trillions in bailout dollars the TARP and Fed gave these banks in 2008/9. But the bankers and their allies like Third Way will try to present this as a simple fix to some minor paperwork problems. Look, if these paperwork problems were so minor, we wouldn’t need the fix they are proposing: the banks would get nicked a little in a few cases where they screwed up a little bit of paperwork, and everyone would go on their way. But they have made a Texas-sized mess of the entire mortgage title system in their haste to make money, and it is time to pay the piper.

What’s the solution? We should start with a foreclosure freeze while the government sorts through the mess and the state attorney generals finish their negotiations with the big banks. Clearly, a massive amount of mortgage write-downs to underwater homeowners to reflect current housing prices makes a ton of sense, and would dramatically cut the need for foreclosures, taking some of the pressure off the system. Once those two steps are taken, hopefully the AGs can cut a good deal for the American people to make things work better going forward.

The problem with sensible pro-middle class solutions like this is the incredible political power of these big banks. Here’s the deal, though: politicians hate the idea of having to bail these guys out again. If progressives can make clear that any legal changes the bankers are trying to push through on mortgage and title law are just one more big bailout of the big banks, we can win this fight. Let’s hope we do, because the stakes are pretty damn high.


Europe Begins To Run Short Of Water

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Oldspeak: “Fuck a bank; I need a twenty-year water tank.

Tell your crew use the H2 in wise amounts since

it’s the New World Water; and every drop counts

You can laugh and take it as a joke if you wanna

But it don’t rain for four weeks some summers

And it’s about to get real wild in the half

You be buying Evian just to take a fuckin bath.”

-Mos Def , “New World Water”

From Pavol Stracansky @ Inter Press Service:

Prague – Half of the Czech Republic’s population could face water shortages because of climate change, a top climate change expert has warned.

The country has become one of the driest in the EU, according to local media, and climatologists say the land, and crucial underground water supplies, are drying up.

Professor Michal Marek, head of the EU-funded CzechGlobe climate change research project, told IPS: “The Czech Republic is already seeing the effects of climate change in more frequent extreme weather events and changes in biodiversity.

“But possibly the most important change is in the increasing drying out of the landscape as drier periods get longer and are followed by bursts of intense rainfall which the dry soil cannot absorb. This has a very significant effect on underground water supplies.”

Climatologists and meteorologists in central Europe have said that the region is seeing more and more extreme weather including long periods of dry and hot weather in the summer, severe flooding and bitter winter weather.

While not all parts of central and Eastern Europe will necessarily have the same problems as the Czech Republic with underground water supplies because of local geological conditions and other factors, heavy rains falling on ground dried out by long periods of hot weather and unable to absorb water can increase the risk of flooding.

Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Germany have all been hit by devastating floods in the last two years.

Summer and winter temperature records have also regularly been broken over the last decade.

Weathermen in Slovakia have begun speculating that weather ‘zones’ which cover the region are moving steadily north: that the climate seen typically in northern Italy – including long, hot, dry summers and bursts of heavy rains – will move a few hundred kilometres north to cover much of Austria, Slovakia and parts of the Czech Republic.

In turn the climate associated with those countries will move and bring with it different weather to parts of Germany and Poland.

With these changes rainfall patterns will also be different and in the Czech Republic, hydrologists say that such changes are already being observed.

Climatologists warn that such change could pose a dramatic problem for the country’s water resources.

In 2006 the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute said research indicated that by the middle of this century some of the country’s rivers could have dried out completely.

Some local ecological groups say that by 2050 there may not be enough water to meet the population’s basic needs.

Some Czech towns highly dependent on underground sources for water supplies say that they are already feeling the effects of depleted resources.

In towns in the southwest of the country residents and local officials say that in recent years they have been faced with water shortages after just a few weeks of dry weather, and some smaller settlements have to rely on water brought in from other parts of the country.

The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, which monitors underground water sources, has identified areas across the north and south of the country which are also suffering from falling underground water levels.

Local firms drilling outdoor wells for homes have said that 30 years ago they would not need to drill more than eight metres into the ground to find water, but that now they regularly need to go to depths of 30 metres.

While experts say that water levels in underground water sources depend on a variety of factors including local geological conditions and other water flows, rainfall plays a significant role in replenishing underground supplies.

“It is one factor affecting underground supply of water but it is terribly important,” said Professor Marek.

Hydrologists say that there has been a marked change in rainfall patterns in recent years with overall rainfall levels being similar to the long-term past but precipitation being less frequent and, therefore, more intense.

Anna Hrabankova, a hydrologist at the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute in Prague, told IPS: “Climate change is a reality. Rainfall is spread differently throughout the year now. The rhythms of rainfall here have changed.”

The Czech Republic, like neighbouring Poland and Slovakia, suffered severe flooding nationwide last year. It was the country’s third period of devastating floods over the last 13 years.

Climate change experts say that rising global temperatures will, in some places, lead to more intense rainfall over short periods.

“Extreme weather, such as flooding and big summer storms, is becoming more frequent and this, I think, is a sign of the effects of climate change in the Czech Republic,” Professor Marek told IPS.

The situation with underground water sources in the Czech Republic is unlikely to improve in the near future. The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute’s climate change department is predicting more weather extremes in the coming years with longer periods of hot weather followed by sudden heavy rainfall.

Professor Marek said that he was pessimistic about the future effects of climate change on the country, especially water supplies.

A report in Czech media this week claimed that 50 percent of Czechs – the proportion of the population reliant on underground water supplies – were facing water shortages because of falling underground water levels.

Some hydrologists questioned the claim as being alarmist but Professor Marek told IPS: “I absolutely agree with this figure. It is completely realistic from my point of view, even though it would, of course, be a terrible situation.

“Problems with water supplies will only get worse and will be the single biggest problem posed by climate change to affect the Czech Republic in the future, worse than changes to biodiversity or anything else.”

Ecological groups such as the Czech branch of Friends of the Earth, say that measures must be taken to ensure that water is not lost, such as reversing river courses which, over decades, have been artificially straightened and has left them less able to retain water.

Professor Marek added: “The solution is landscape planning to prevent water running off the land such as changing the use of land, agricultural practices and natural features that help retain water.”



FCC Approves Comcast-NBC Merger

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Oldspeak: ” COMING SOON! Higher Cable bills and subscription costs! ‘At a time when a small number of giant media corporations already control what the American people see, hear, and read, we do not need another conglomerate with more control over the production and distribution of news and other programming.” -Sen. Bernie Sanders.’  Beautiful example of A “Regulatory Agency” captured by the industry it’s supposed be be regulating, doing the industry’s bidding, forsaking the public interest/greater good to the tune of 2.4 BILLION in additional costs to the consumer.”

From Nadia Prupis @ Truthout:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a conditions-based merger between Comcast and NBC on Tuesday. After months of heated debate over the potential consequences to net neutrality, a 4-to-1 vote by the FCC sealed Comcast’s acquisition of NBC. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also announced its approval of the deal.

Now, with 51 percent of the stake in NBC Universal (NBCU), Comcast will own the majority of the network’s channels, including CNBC and Bravo, as well as the Universal Pictures movie studio.

Comcast will also be able to maintain partial ownership of Hulu.com, but must “relinquish its managerial rights,” according to a DOJ press release. “Without such remedy, Comcast could, through its seats on Hulu’s board of directors, interfere with the management of Hulu, and, in particular, the development of products that compete with Comcast’s video service. Comcast also must continue to make NBCU content available to Hulu that is comparable to the programming Hulu obtains from Disney and News Corp.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski included several provisions in the commission’s approval statement to note the importance of net neutrality as the country’s biggest cable company takes control of a large broadcast network.

“As part of the merger, Comcast-NBCU will be required to take affirmative steps to foster competition in the video marketplace,” the FCC approval letter read. “In addition, Comcast-NBCU will increase news coverage to viewers; expand children’s programming; enhance the diversity of programming available to Spanish-speaking viewers; offer broadband services to low-income Americans are reduced monthly prices; and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries and underserved communities, among other public benefits.”

Comcast will also have to abide by the FCC’s recently-approved net neutrality regulations, even if Congress repeals it, and must offer customers the option of ordering Internet service separately from a cable bundle – but only for the next seven years.

The restrictions enforce Comcast in providing content to some online distributors, but not all. Comcast will be able to continue withholding its content from some competitors, like Google TV.

Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps opposed the vote. The deal “reaches into virtually every corner of our media and digital landscapes and will affect every citizen in the land,” Copps said in a statement. “It confers too much power in one company’s hands.”

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Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota), a longtime critic of the merger for over a year, called the deal a “tremendous disappointment.”

“What we see today is an effort by the FCC to appease the very companies it’s charged with regulating,” Franken stated. “With approval of this merger, the FCC has given a single media conglomerate unprecedented control over the flow of information in America.” Franken, who previously worked for NBC on “Saturday Night Live,” said last February at a Judiciary Committee hearing that his experience with the network led him to distrust promises that the two media companies had made.

Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, who leads the DOJ antitrust division, voiced her support of the merger as part of an “open and fair marketplace.”

“The Antitrust Division conducted a thorough investigation of the Comcast and NBC Universal joint venture to examine the competitive effects of the transaction,” Varney said in a statement.

Josh Silver, president of media watchdog group Free Press, disagreed that the merger will help maintain a public and competitive market. “This deal will give Comcast unprecedented control over both media content and the physical network that delivers it,” Silver stated. “While the FCC has adopted conditions, they are insufficient short-term or voluntary fixes that will fail to prevent permanent harm to competition, consumer choice and the future of the Internet.”

In April 2010, an appeals court cast doubt on the FCC’s ability to regulate the Internet, rejecting the commission’s 2008 cease-and-desist case against Comcast, which had been accused of slowing and eventually prohibiting BitTorrent transfers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who called for the end of the merger after Keith Olbermann’s suspension last year, said the FCC and the DOJ “ignored their mandates to protect the public interest and preserve competition” by approving the deal. “At a time when a small number of giant media corporations already control what the American people see, hear, and read, we do not need another conglomerate with more control over the production and distribution of news and other programming.”

The American Cable Association filed a study with the FCC in December estimating that the merger would cost consumers $2.4 billion over a nine-year period, due to higher monthly cable bills and subscription costs. Comcast rejected the study on the grounds that it was a “flawed analysis” that relied on unsupported calculations.


Martin Luther King Injustice Index 2011: Racism, Materialism And Militarism In The U.S.

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Oldspeak: “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values… when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967

From Bill Quigley @ Truthout:

As we remember the courage and hope of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must not forget that he spoke out and worked against the injustices of our nation, particularly those of racism, materialism and militarism.  Indeed that is what made him so hated and so dangerous when he was alive.

We have achievements to celebrate: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” the release of San Suu Kyi in Burma; the enactment of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights by the NY legislature that extends important labor rights to 200,000 nannies and housekeepers; the victories of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and the exposure of secret US and other country machinations by Wikileaks, among
others.

There has been progress in dismembering the laws of segregation which divided
our country.  We must celebrate the successes that many struggled to achieve.
However, as we celebrate those victories let us not lose sight of the challenges
still facing this country.

Here are some of the facts about racism, materialism and militarism in the US
which we should reflect on as we decide how best to carry on the radical
struggle for justice of Dr. King.  (For each fact, I provide a brief cite to the
sources which are listed at the end of the article).

Let us renew our commitment to the radical revolution of values for which Dr.
King gave his life as we turn to the realities of current life.

Racism: Health, Housing, Income and Jobs

Health

Infants born to black women are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to die than infants
born to women of all other races or ethnicities.  Black men and women are much
more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than their white counterparts.
Hypertension is by far most prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks (42% vs. 29%
among whites).  Uninsured persons are only about half as likely to have
hypertension under control as those with insurance. Source: Centers for Disease
Control (CDC).

Twenty-five percent of black workers and forty-three percent of Hispanic workers
do not have health insurance, compared to fifteen percent of white workers. Source:
Kaiser Family Foundation

Overall, sixteen percent of all whites, twenty-one percent of blacks and
thirty-two percent of Hispanics do not have health insurance. Source: census

Housing

In cities with large African American populations, black segregation looks
pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago; Hispanic segregation is on the
rise.  Source: Princeton

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the crisis in subprime mortgages in minority
neighborhoods was not the result of riskier lending spurred by the Community
Reinvestment Act or a decline in underwriting standards.  Source: Princeton

Even with similar qualities (credit profiles, down payment ratios, personal
characteristics, and residential locations) African Americans were more likely
to receive subprime loans.  Similarly blacks and Hispanics were significantly
more likely than whites to receive loans with unfavorable terms such as
prepayment penalties.  The result: from 1993 to 2000, the share of subprime
mortgages going to households in minority neighborhoods rose from 2 to 18
percent.  Source: Princeton

Because predatory lenders could efficiently target entire minority neighborhoods
with subprime mortgages, larger numbers of people were affected than would have
had they been more geographically spread out.  In true layman’s terms, it was
like “shooting fish in a barrel.”  Segregated neighborhoods just made it too
easy to engage large numbers of people in this devastating scheme and this
multiplied the effect of the crisis. Source: Princeton

Black middle class families have been stripped of more wealth by the real estate
and foreclosure crisis than any single event in US history.  Due entirely to
subprime loans, black borrowers are expected to lose between $71 billion and $92
billion. Source: Devona Walker

Income and Jobs

Median household income for white families is $51,861, for black families is
$32,584, and for Hispanic is it $38,039.  Source: census

The Immigration and Enforcement Agency is on pace to deport about 400,000 people
this fiscal year, more under the current administration than any before.
Source: Slevin

The overall unemployment rate among whites is 8.5% and among blacks it is
15.8%.  For white teenagers the unemployment rate is 22% and among blacks it is
44%.  Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Materialism: Inequality and Poverty

The top 25 hedge fund managers were paid on average, more than $1 billion each
in 2009.  Source: Schwartz, New York Times

Between 2002 and 2007, 65 percent of all income growth in the US went to the top
1 percent of the population; that top 1 percent also held a larger share of
income than any time since 1928, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and
Thomas Piketty. Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

There are 43 million people in the US living under the official poverty line.
While there are more white people living in poverty (30 million) than black (10
million) and Hispanic (12 million) poor combined, the poverty rate for whites of
12% is significantly less than the 26% rate for blacks and the 25% rate for
Hispanics.  Source: census

The bottom 20% of the US population have negative wealth, they owe more than the
value of all their assets.  From 20 to 40th percentile, the next 20% of the
population, average about $5,000 in wealth.  The middle 20%, from the 40 to 60th
percentile, own $65,000 in assets.  The next highest 20%, the 60 to 80th
percentile, are worth about $208,000.  From 80 to 90th, the average wealth is
$477,000.  From 90 to 95th, the wealth is $908,000 in assets.  From 95 to 99th
is $2,734,000 in wealth assets.  And the top 1%?  $13,977,000 in average
wealth. Source: State of Working America

Since the economic recession started there has been a 25% rise in the number of
people “doubling up” in housing by moving in with others, there has been a rise
in the number of homeless families, and in not one of the 50 states can a person
working full-time at one minimum wage afford a two bedroom apartment for his or
her family.  Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition

Militarism: Troops, Expenditures and Arms Sales

The US reports it has 1.4 million people in active military service in 143
countries around the world.  The top places for US military are:  Afghanistan
(105,900), Iraq (96,200), Germany (53,951), and Japan (34,385). Source: Department of
Defense

There are an additional 819,000 people in the Reserve and National Guard and
another 709,000 civilian personnel. Source: 2011 Census Statistical Abstract, Table 506.

The US spent $774 billion directly on its military budget in 2010.  The
Department of Defense budget was over $660 billion, counting the special
expenditures for Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Source: The Department of Veterans Affairs
was $114 billion for 2010.

The US spends much more on its military than any other country in the world.
Military spending has increased by 75% since the year 2000 and represents about
$2100 for every person in the US.  Excluding expenditures for veterans the US
military budget in 2009 was over $660 billion.  In second place globally was
China at about $100 billion.  France was third at $63 billion, the UK next with
$58 billion and Russia in 5th place spending $53 billion.  In fact the US spends
more on military than the rest of the top 10 countries in the world put
together. Source: SIRI

The US also leads the world in the sale of lethal weapons to others, selling
about one of every three weapons worldwide.  The USA’s major clients are South
Korea, Israel and United Arab Emirates. Source: SIRI

The US continues to hold 174 people in indefinite and illegal detention in
Guantanamo despite global calls for closure.  Thirty eight of those still being
held have won their habeas corpus petitions in front of federal judges but still
have not been freed. Source: Miami Herald.

The US continues to launch remote controlled unmanned predator drones into
Pakistan, a country we are not even at war with.  In 2010, US drones struck
Pakistan 118 times killing many civilians. Source: New America Foundation

The number of deaths in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are difficult to
calculate since the US only counts US deaths.  The US reports 1277 US military
have died in Afghanistan and 4427 died in Iraq.  The Iraq Body Count estimates
between 99,357 and 108,475 civilians have died in violence associated with the
war in Iraq. Source:  www.iraqbodycount.org

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the total cost of
the Iraq war to the US is more than $3 trillion.  For this estimate he
calculated the actual military costs, the cost of treating and compensating
disabled veterans, a $10 increase in the price of oil (the increase in the price
of oil went from $25 a barrel when the US invaded Iraq to as high as $140 a
barrel in 2008), the increase in the federal debt and the borrowing that
demanded.  Source: Stiglitz

Conclusion

As we celebrate the life of Dr. King, let us realize the challenges that still
face those who seek a world of justice and peace.  He showed us that anger at
injustice can be combined with courage to create real hope for a better world.
Let us address the injustices of continuing racism, materialism and militarism
with the courage and hope that Dr. King displayed in his brief life.