15 01 2017

Last month, I went on so long on the question of “how did we get here?” that I didn’t have time to address my next two questions,“What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and  “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?” I’m going to address that second question–the nature of our new environment–this month. I’m also going to examine just how much choice we really had about this change.

Trigger warning: I’m going to talk about “the big O” a lot in this post–no, not the anime series, not Oscar Robertson, not that “big O.” I’m going to talk about oligarchy.

Trump has made it abundantly clear that his show of sensitivity to the needs of disgruntled, formerly or still barely middle class white Americans, was a huckster’s trick to draw in the marks. His promise to “drain the swamp” was nothing more than campaign rhetoric, like Ms. Clinton’s claim to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership she had spent so much time promoting as Secretary of State, or her alleged concern for the welfare of that same sorta-middle class that Mr. Trump was wooing. More on that later. Trump not only isn’t draining the swamp, he’s bringing in bigger, hungrier alligators. His initial cabinet selections, if they are confirmed, constitute the wealthiest Presidential cabinet ever assembled, most have clearly made their fortunes by squeezing the common people, and none show any signs of remorse for their ruthlessness.

For example, Wilbur Ross, who may be our next Secretary of Commerce, made a good bit of his 2.5 billion dollar fortune through corporate raiding–buying companies that were in trouble and putting them through bankruptcy, which involves shedding workers, lowering wages, and reneging on pension plans. He iced his money cake by making millions in the mortgage bubble that prefaced the financial crash of 2008, and was further enriched by the policies Wall Street’s friend, Barack Obama, put into practice, which bailed out the banks and left homeowners hung out to dry. In The Nation magazine, David Dayan comments on this Read the rest of this entry »


7 07 2012

A few months back, President Obama announced a three billion dollar  U.S. initiative “to help Africa feed itself, “which is a noble goal, but the devil was all over his details.  The first detail to note is that three billion dollars is a third of one percent of our country’s military budget.  About one day of our military spending to help the starving Africans.  Whoopee!

There were two major prongs to this plan. Two-thirds of the money,  (That’s about sixteen hours worth of military spending.)will be given to a European chemical company to build a fertilizer factory in Africa, which would use natural gas to create massive quantities of ammonium nitrate, which is a powerful explosive as well as a fertilizer.  (Remember the Oklahoma City Federal Building?  The first attempt on the World Trade Center?).  The second prong will introduce Monsatan’s GMO seeds to African farmers, “to increase their yields.”     This from the guy whose wife scored big publicity points by putting an organic vegetable garden at the White House.

Both these prongs are going to do a lot more harm than good.  The manufacture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is an energy-intensive, CO2-producing process whose result is a bag of white crystals that, not unlike cocaine, provide a short-term boost, but, in the long-term, have a deleterious effect–in the case of ammonium nitrate, the impoverishment of the soil to which it is applied.  The high levels of ammonia in ammonium nitrate burn out soil micro-organisms, leading to depletion of organic matter and a decrease in the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water.  The short-term solution, as with cocaine, is to apply a bigger dose of white crystals.  Sooner or later, the excess nitrogen starts leaching into the water supply, which exacerbates the problem by polluting the water and making people sick.

.  Then, too, the fertilizer must be purchased, a financial demand that can have disastrous consequences for small farmers in the third world.  We’ll look more deeply at that soon.  For now, let’s just point out that placing  increased financial pressure on cash-strapped, subsistence farmers in the name of “improving their lives” is either cynical or naive.  Time and time again, there have been demonstration projects and studies showing that the best way to improve the lives of subsistence farmers and the communities they feed is to help them find ways to increase the “circularity” of their farming, by increasing their use of local, organic inputs such as plant, animal, and human waste, and by returning to non-mechanized farming methods that require more labor and less machinery and fossil fuels.  Neither the fact that we are running out of inexpensive ways to create those white crystals, nor the fact that producing the white crystals is destroying the soil and the atmosphere, seems to enter into the calculations of those who proclaim the superiority of white-crystal style farming–f’rinstance, President Obama, or Presidential wanna-be Romney.

The second prong of the fork with which our corporatocracy wishes to stick the people of Africa is the introduction of GMO seeds.  There’s two really bad things about GMO seeds.  The first is their toll on the humans who use them, and the second is the way their use destroys the land in which they are planted.  We have only to look to India to see what the President and his cronies are promising to deliver to Africa.  What we see in India is over 200,000 small farmers driven to suicide, often by the debts they incurred to buy GMO seeds and the chemical inputs necessary to grow them–not just the aforementioned fertilizer, but herbicides and pesticides that they lack the technology to apply “safely,” even in the manufacturer’s loose terms.   Third-world farmers have traditionally saved their own seed, but it is illegal to save the patented GMO seeds, and frequently impractical as well, for, if the seed is a hybrid, it will either fail to produce fertile seed,  or fail to produce a uniform variety–but you’re not supposed to even try planting them, because they’re patented.  Intellectual property rights must be respected, y’know!   So, when Obama talks about “helping” African farmers with chemical inputs, he’s talking about inducing a rash of debt-driven suicides.  Hey, that’ll clear the playing field and help solve the overpopulation problem, right?!  More on that perverse idea later.  Back to GMO crops.

Herbicide use itself is highly problematic.  Roundup, the go-to herbicide for GMO crops, is very nonspecific in its effects.  It kills soil microflora just as readily as it kills broadleaf weeds and grasses, and thus is highly detrimental to soil.  And, just as with ammonium nitrate, its production is energy-intensive and carbon-expensive.

So, to sum up, when we strip the facade from the President’s feel-good call to help foster agriculture in Africa, we find a plan that is likely to further impoverish the continent’s vast majority of smallholders, drive them from their land, and wreak havoc with the land’s ability to support plant life.  So, who does benefit from this kind of “help”?

One group that is helped by alienating traditional people from their land base is foreign investors, both private and national, who are increasingly looking to Africa as a place to grow food to export, rather than to feed the hungry close at hand.  China and other countries are making deals with debt-pressed, cash-starved governments, deals that involve the displacement of thousands of people from millions of acres in order to grow crops that will not feed Africans.

The other big beneficiary of Obama’s policy is the Monsanto Corporation.  It is relevant to note, at this point, the “revolving door” nature of Monsanto’s relationship with the government. At least 35 individuals, representing both of the US’s major political parties, have been both on Monsanto’s payroll and the government’s, albeit not at the same time, as far as we know.  We’re talking about some big fish here–Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Hillary Clinton both worked for Monsanto when they were private practice lawyers.  Searle Chemical Company-CEO Donald Rumsfeld  (remember him?) was paid a twelve million dollar bonus by Monsanto when it acquired Searle, giving Monsanto the right to produce the carcinogenic artificial sweetener aspartame  (“Nutrasweet”). after Rummy pulled strings to get it approved for human use, but that’s another story.

The Africa deal is not the only example of  Obama’s–and our whole government’s– apparent willingness to go to bat for Monsanto.    Attempts to pass laws allowing labeling of GMO foods, dairy products containing bovine growth hormones, and limiting the spread of GMO seeds have been shot down, and research suggesting that their widespread use might have serious negative effects has been suppressed., both in the current administration and the last several governments, no matter who was supposedly in charge.

Monsanto’s willingness to play with both major US political parties leads to another question.  Should we really blame Barack Obama for all this?  Or is he a genuinely well-intentioned guy, who thought he could make change happen by being elected President, but found, when he arrived, that his real role was to play spokesman for an unelected shadow government?  As Robert Anton Wilson put it, “was the new President shown a video of the Kennedy assassination from an angle he’d never seen it from before, and told ‘you’ve got a nice family.  Play along with us and nobody gets hurt.'”?  Perhaps.  A friend of mine who is an old smoking buddy of Al Gore’s tells me that Al told him in 1992 that Al and Bill knew the office they were running for was more ceremonial than executive, but they hoped to be able to make a slight difference in the direction of things.  We all know how that turned out.   (And remember, Gore had already written and become somewhat famous for  Earth in the Balance, which, along with Albert Bates’ Climate in Crisis was one of the first books to call popular attention to the mess we are tangled in now.)  Perhaps frustration with his figurehead status accounts for Gore’s lackluster run for President in 2000 and his subsequent flowering, at a convenient distance from politics.

So, maybe Barack Obama regrets his decision to become a kinder, gentler  face for the corporatocracy than Dick Cheney and that guy he was with, but we may never know, because, like Clinton and Gore before him, he fears for his safety and his family’s safety far too much to ever spill those beans.

But, whatever the unspeakable truth may be about Barack Obama’s motivations and intentions, the inconvenient truth is that the African policy for which he is at the very least serving as a charming mouthpiece is not a policy that will benefit Africa.  It is just another corporate iron hand in another velvet glove, grabbing for what’s left of the wealth of the continent that gave birth to us all, a corporate iron hand that doesn’t care who or what it crushes as long as it ends up with a fistful of dollars.  And that’s the inconvenient truth about the Obama administration’s “African initiative.”

music:  Terry Allen, “Big Ol’ White Boys


15 10 2011

Sir Albert Howard published “An Agricultural Testament,” his best-known book, in 1940.  In its 300 pages, he laid out the scientific foundation for what has become the organic farming and gardening movement.  Of course, very little of what Howard expounded in his magnum opus was really new–much of  it was the logical, scientific justification for, and tweaking of,  age-old farming practices, such as composting, crop rotations, and the importance of soil structure and the microlife that maintains healthy soil.

But he wasn’t solely focused on plants and dirt.  He understood the importance of the whole ecosystem that surrounds a piece of farmland–“The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible,” is a quote from him much treasured by The Soil Association, The United Kingdom’s premier organic farming organization.

His beginnings are not exactly humble.  Howard was born into a successful farming family in England in 1873, and educated in “scientific agriculture” at Cambridge and other English universities.

And what was “scientific agriculture” at the turn of the twentieth century?  It included the use of lead arsenate as an insecticide, a practice since discontinued due to the unfortunate tendency of the lead and arsenic to build up in the soil and poison not just the target insects, but the soil itself, anything grown in it, and anyone who eats the poisoned produce.  Brilliantly, lead arsenate was replaced in the late 1940’s by….DDT!   Oh, the marvels of unintended consequences!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After graduation, Howard went to Barbados for a few years, where he taught mycology and agriculture, then cycled back through England, and then, courtesy of the Empire that the Sun never set on, was sent to India to enlighten the heathen on the advantages of modern agriculture.  Instead, the heathen enlightened him.  He saw the profound, circular connection between land and the animals and people who feed from it, and turned his scientific training on the age-old process of composting, which resulted in what he called “The Indore Method” of composting, and no, it’s not intended to take place indoors!   It’s named after a town in India.  “The Indore method” involves the mixing of animal manure, green manure, earth, water, and air, and turns these raw materials into humus, the organic component of soil from which all the blessings of agriculture flow.

Howard’s work was brought to the U.S. by J.I. RodaleGandhi acolyte and Walnut Acres founder Paul Keene, Scott and Helen Nearing, and E.E. Pfeiffer, who married Howard’s science with the mystical biodynamic insights of Rudolph Steiner.  By the end of the Second World War, the seeds of an agricultural revolution had been planted.  But, just as the cultural revolutionaries of the 60’s and 70’s were overwhelmed by the marketing forces of Madison Avenue and the brute force of law enforcement, the agricultural revolutionaries of the 1940’s were overwhelmed when the U.S. industrial base, which had mushroomed to meet the production demands of the war, successfully sought to maintain its momentum by transforming America into a high-tech, credit-driven, consumer society.  Down on the farm, this meant that the age-old skills of horse-driven farming were lost in an onslaught of cheap tractors, turned out on assembly lines that had made tanks. The wisdom of manuring and cover cropping lost ground to chemical plant food, as the country’s many munitions factories turned to the production of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.  Crop rotation, the art and science of changing what is grown where to avoid nutrient depletion and weed or insect infestation, nearly vanished in a chemical fog as inexpensive pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides made their appearance, all alleged to be so much safer than the old lead and mercury potions that had taken their toll.  As it turns out, most of them weren’t safer–but that’s another story.

Another roadblock for the post WWII organic farming movement was the growth of suburbia and its attendant cookie-cutter culture.  Not only were most of the choicest fields near big urban areas turned into tract house lawns, but the local grocery supply networks were supplanted by national chain stores that bought big quantities of produce and other foods at low prices from large nationwide suppliers.  Local restaurants, too, were driven out by fast food providers who, for the most part, heated up frozen foods from a central warehouse, to assure uniformity in their product.

The net effect of all these “improvements” destroyed the circular nature of traditional agriculture, and changed it into a linear process.  Fields that had thrived on farm-produced manure and cover crops were now fed by chemical fertilizer that by its very nature could not be produced at home, and that must be paid for with money.  As the country’s meat and dairy industry became increasingly centralized, manure was no longer a valuable soil amendment, but a pollutant that fouled the air and water for miles around the “super-efficient” (but not really) “Confined Animal Feeding Operations.”  The new miracle chemicals–fertilizers,pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides–likewise killed far more than their targets, decimating wildlife and rural water quality.

But it would take a few decades for all this to sink in.  Meanwhile, organic, locally grown food settled into being a “niche market,” something only the at least moderately wealthy could afford and only the true believers were willing to produce, and there things stayed for several decades, disturbed only distantly by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” popularized a little more by the counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s.   Sure, there were plenty of stories of poisoned farm workers, unhealthy ingredients, and other dangers, but this did not dislodge the American public’s faith in the industrial food system.

Lately, however, there’s change in the air.  The money, the oil, and all the agricultural chemicals that are made from or with that oil, are starting to dry up.  Natural gas, the raw material for making ammonium nitrate, as well as many pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides,  is increasingly expensive to produce. And then there’s fracking, which is where more and more of our natural gas is coming from, but that’s a whole other topic.  Furthermore, the world’s supply of phosphate, another of the most important plant nutrients, is nearly exhausted.  As a result of all this, prices are rising, corners are being cut, and those cut corners are resulting in more and more incidents of large quantities of contaminated food, from meat to salads, being sold and consumed before anybody discovers the danger.  Meanwhile, in the countryside where this factory food is being produced, air and water pollution are on the rise.

And this is only the beginning.  The vast international apparatus that provides most of us with our daily bread, meat, milk, fruit and vegetables, runs on gasoline and diesel fuel, and the needle on the planet’s gas gauge is settling down towards that big “E.”  Our world-wide food production and distribution system is in severe danger of falling apart, leaving us with empty grocery stores and empty stomachs.

It sounds like a job for Local Organic Man–or Local Organic Woman–and, indeed, a veritable New Model Army of visionaries with their hands in the dirt is springing up to meet this challenge, from Will Allen’s urban farming efforts in Milwaukee and Chicago to Wes Jackson’s work with perennial polyculture grain farming at the Land Institute in Kansas.  Another such pioneer is David Kennedy, whose recently published book, “21st Century Greens,” is what inspired me to talk about farming this month–and hey, October is traditional harvest time here in the Northern Hemisphere, so  it’s certainly an appropriate topic.  I’ll tell you more about 21st Century Greens after this music break.

music:  The Band, “King Harvest


8 01 2011

People who like to consider themselves “liberals” and “progressives” and who are still clinging to the idea that Obama is somehow “our man in the White House” are willing to go to great lengths to retain their belief.  And even this hardened Obama skeptic has to admit that he is “kinder and gentler” than his ham-fisted predecessors, whom I was fond of referring to as a ‘junta.”  (After all, Cheney and Bush only got themselves “elected” by jiggering the system, to put it mildly.)  You may have noticed that I don’t refer to “the Biden-Obama junta.”

Whatever their faults, Obama and Biden didn’t mess with the electoral process to get into office.  The Republicans knew it was time to bow out and let the Democrats take the fall–which is what Obama has done.  A Republican health care plan has become “Obamacare.”  The deficit run up by the junta has become “the Obama deficit,” and the Republicans are happily tarring him for it.  The bank bailout engineered by the junta has become “the Obama bailout,” and they are tarring him for that, too.  In return, he has graciously declined to prosecute anyone for malfeasance in the collapse of the Great American Financial Bubble, which was blown by the Cheney-Bush junta but which the former juntoids are cheerfully pinning on Obama.  He’s such a nice guy.

Between 1990 and 1995, nearly 4,000 people, mostly rich white guys, went to jail for their malfeasance in “the Savings and Loan Crisis.”  That little imbroglio burned up about $124 Billion; the 2008 crash has cost at least $2.8 Trillion, 23 times as much.  (23!  That number again! hmmm….).   So…proportionately speaking, if 4,000 people went to jail for defrauding the public of $128B, then there should be about 92,000 people criminally liable for something 23 times as big–wow, that might just about clear out Wall Street–which is probably why it hasn’t happened.

There have been a few showcase trials of fringe Ponzi scheme operators like Bernie Madoff, but, instead of prosecuting the firms behind this shakedown of the world’s economy, “our” President Obama has invited them into the government.  Not only is Goldman-Sachs “too big to fail,” it’s apparently also too big to prosecute.  I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re caught with a hand in the cookie jar, as long as you’ve got the government by the balls with your other hand.

Or consider Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo.  He made a half-hearted effort to follow through, but it’s still there, the US military guarding a handful of often innocent people who got caught up in a dragnet and have now been mistreated so badly for so long that 1) we don’t dare release them because they’ll tell on us and 2) even if they didn’t hate America before, we’ve now given them good reason to, and they’ll join the anti-American jihad if the US lets them loose. It’s already happened.

And that leads to the wider issue of our ongoing financial pyromania in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where our tax dollars feed the bonfire we are ostensibly there to extinguish. You tea partiers wanna cut the budget?  Forget about diddling around with Social Security, Medicare, and education–that’s all small potatoes compared to military spending–800 billion dollars, about $7K per household, nearly half of world military spending.  “Our” President Obama ain’t shrinking that, folks.  The empire must be defended, not defunded!

Don’t get me wrong on this.  I’m not in favor of cutting pay for the military rank-and-file. Sure, they’re hired killers, but there’s a lot of worthwhile projects that are crying out for an organized workforce, which could easily be our redirected,  unarmed forces.  Besides, our military, with its health care system, network of PX stores, and subsidized housing, is one of the outstanding examples of socialism in the world today.

I’m talking about discontinuing expensive, high-tech weapons programs that amount to a form of corporate welfare.(Not that I really think our corporate-run state is about to discontinue any form of corporate welfare, but I might as well say it anyway!). Killing Pakistanis with drone aircraft controlled by people in Nevada is, in my admittedly biased opinion, morally abhorrent.  Besides, at a practical level, it opens the door to other countries doing the same thing to us, should the tables turn, as eventually they will.  Do unto others, y’know?  Drones over America!  Think of the possibilities!

OK, so Obama pushed through the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Wonderful.  The military doesn’t care who you want to schtup, as long as you’re willing to pull the trigger for them.  Sonny, I’m old enough to remember when the gay rights movement and the women’s movement’s vision was more about ending the military and the drive to violent conflict than about asserting their right to be hired killers just like the guys, or the straight guys.  “Don’t ask?  Don’t tell?”  Don’t bother!  Whaddaya want in that club for, anyway!? Wake the bleep up!

I digress…

We can also see the continuity between the Cheney and Obama administrations in the realm of agricultural policy, where both have been unstinting in their promotion of Monsanto and its stable of genetically modified crops, despite a great deal of evidence that calls GMO crops into question on a wide variety of grounds.

Monsanto supporters like to bloviate about how Monsanto’s GMO crops are necessary to feed the world, how they are able to increase yields and confer pest resistance, but the fact of the matter is that the primary trait of GMO crops so far is resistance to the effects of …Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide, “Roundup.”  Gee, isn’t that a coincidence?  Monsanto advocates like to claim that the no-till farming enabled by dependence on Roundup for weed control keeps fields from eroding and thus saves the soil.  Well, OK, it may keep it from washing away, but it also alters soil chemistry–it’s a plant poison, after all–and, like a person who takes antibiotics all the time, extensive use of Roundup negatively affects soil fertility and health, encouraging outbreaks of plant disease that are normally kept in check by the micro-organisms Roundup kills.  Not to mention, regular Roundup use has enabled the evolution of herbicide resistant weeds, just as GMO crops created with insect resistance have both prompted the evolution of pesticide-resistant insects, and opened the plants up to attacks from insects that were not problematic before.

And then there’s a little legal nicety:  these seeds are patented, and so farmers cannot legally save seed, as they have done for thousands of years, but must buy seed–expensive seed–every year, along with expensive chemicals…like Roundup.  In India, mounting debt from these practices has contributed to the suicides of hundreds of thousands of small farmers, flooding the country’s cities with even more rural refugees and emptying out the countryside.

Consider this:the pollen from GMO seeds doesn’t keep to itself.  It blows on the wind or gets picked up by bees, and ends up in non-GMO flowers, producing GMO  characteristics in non-GMO seeds.  This is very bad news for anybody who is attempting to grow organic crops anywhere near a GMO field.  The good news is, the courts have decided that Monsanto can’t sue people whose fields their GMO pollen contaminates. The bad news is, it took the Canadian Supreme Court to get Monsanto to back down on this.  If it had come to the US Supreme Court, my guess is they would have backed Monsanto.  Corporations are more equal than people in this country, dontcha know?

Monsanto has won many cases against farmers who attempted to save their own GMO seed, and has hired the company formerly known as Blackwater to spy on anti-GMO activists and  enforce their monopoly–er, patent rights, excuse me.  The Justice Department is looking into whether Monsanto’s tactics are illegal, but, considering Obama’s track record, I doubt that anything will come of this investigation.

There are also major questions about the edibility of GMO crops.  Analysis of Monsanto’s “safety studies” by independent scientists revealed that Monsanto manipulated the data to get the results it wanted, and that GMO crops present a double threat:  “Roundup ready” GMOs incorporate the herbicide into every part of the plant, and thus, when we eat GMO corn, we are eating Roundup.  Yummy!  Even when Roundup is not part of the plant’s makeup, GMO crops produce effects like digestive problems, liver damage, and reproductive difficulties.  Here in the US, where, in 1992, thanks to Dan Quayle, Monsanto easily persuaded the USDA that GMO crops were not substantially different from non-GMO crops and thus did not need to be vetted for health effects, we are now a nation of lab rats for a massive, long-term experiment with eating GMO crops, and our government, as Wikileaks has  revealed, is firmly behind Monsanto’s push to spread GMOs.

OK, back to the Obama administration, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” department: Nina Federoff is Hillary Clinton’s science advisor.  Before that, she was…Condoleeza Rice’s science advisor.  Before that, she worked for an Israeli….biotech firm!  Isn’t that amazing!  She has publicly expressed her disdain for organic farming.  I got news, Ms. Federoff:  organic farming is the only kind of farming that will be possible in the mid- to long-term future, so we’d better start getting good at it.  Dig this, all you folks who think Hillary would be an improvement on Barack!?

Back to Barack:  he put Tom Vilsack, who was the biotech industry’s (like, Monsanto’s) “governor of the year,” in as Secretary of Agriculture.  Vilsack also championed the spread of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in Iowa,  and pushed through a law that prevents Iowa counties from banning GMO agriculture.

Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto executive, who, as Bill Clinton’s guy at the FDA, pushed rGBH down America’s throat, is now in charge of food safety.  Doesn’t that make you feel safer?

Roger Beachy, formerly head of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, will serve as the first director of a new federal agriculture agency, the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, which will direct agricultural research grants.  The Danforth Center is heavily funded by… Monsanto.

Islam A. Siddiqui, recently Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America (the organization that sent the First Lady a letter admonishing her for not using pesticides on the White House garden) is now America’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator, who works through the Office of the United States Trade Representative to promote US crops and ag products abroad.  “Croplife America” is a lobbying group that represents…Monsanto.

So there they are, “the rogues’ gallery,” “the usual suspects,” call them what you will. It boils down to another example of how Obama is not a change in direction from the Cheney-Bush junta, just a rebranding of the same basic agenda.  “Too rough?  OK, we’ll ease up a little–but we’re still in control.”

The good news is that Monsanto, like the US government, appears to be a little past the peak of its power.  The patent on Roundup has expired, and Roundup knockoffs are available for a fraction of Monsanto’s price. Farmers are rebelling against the high price of GMO seed.  Despite the US government’s attempts to go on the offensive for Monsanto, worldwide suspicion of GMO crops is growing, especially as more and more science and practical experience calls the wisdom of genetic meddling into question. A recent court ruling halted cultivation of GMO sugar beets, finding that the USDA had paid only “cursory” attention to numerous environmental concerns about the crop.  The court had to do it, because Obamonsanto’s USDA was staying the Bush junta’s course  and  allowing the GMO beets to go ahead.  A similar controversy still rages over whether to allow “Roundup-Ready” alfalfa.

Monsanto will not give up easily.  The company will try, and try, and try again, doing its best to wear down the mere humans who are wary of its profit drive–which is, after all, the central organizing principle in a for-profit corporation.   It is unlikely that Western civilization will come unglued fast enough to prevent a great deal of harm coming from Monsanto’s actions.  This is what happens when profit-driven corporations run amok.

music:  Laurie Anderson, “The Monkey’s Paw


27 03 2008

From the pen of Michael O’Gorman, founder of Farms Not Arms, 15 theses on the importance of  peace and agri-culture:

 14)   How we live as individuals effects how we behave as a society and a country.  American writers from Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman, to Scott Nearing and Wendell Berry have shown us that our connection to the land is essential to being peaceful people.  Generations of Amish, Mennonites and others have chosen farming as part of a simpler life, without need or capacity for violence.  And a generation of young Americans growing up during the War in Vietnam pushed organic farming as the ultimate statement against a country that had lost its moral center of gravity.  More than ever, in a shrinking world, we need to look at how we farm, how we eat, and how we live as both means and ends in our search for a more peaceful and just world.


15)   Farming is life.  It transcends politics.  “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares” is not only one of the world’s oldest anti-war statements it is a real life instruction for a real life activity.   The famous statue at the UN by the same name shows a massive man with massive strength doing a massive job.  As farmers and farm workers, men and women, we have the strength for doing just that.



22 03 2008

Forty years ago, I sat on the summit of a hill in San Francisco and surveyed the valley below me, visualizing it as it once had been, with a forest and a free-running stream.  The city, I knew, was going to have to go.  I said to my companion, “Doug, we’re gonna have to tear all this down.”  It looks like maybe it’s time to move that project off the back burner….

Cows Grazing in the Rumpus Room

by Allison Arieff 

O.K., the planet is officially out of (or back in?) alignment: American farmers are making money hand over fist while the hedge fund guys are wishing they’d put a little more cash under the mattress. Corn growers in the United States can no longer keep pace with the staggering global demand for the raw material of corn syrup and ethanol and so, seemingly out of nowhere, there’s a demand for more farmland.

That just looks wrong on the page!

But it’s true. We are running out of farmland and some people, like finance guru James Cramer in his recent column for New York magazine urging readers to invest in farm supply equipment, are suggesting — only a little facetiously — that housing developments may need to be razed to clear the way for more farmland.

That sounds crazy, but it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: for decades, we’ve systematically razed nearly every patch of land we’ve been able to in an effort to create more room for industry, technology and people, without really paying attention to what’s being lost in the process. With scores of homes being abandoned because of the current mortgage debacle, some innovative rethinking is going to have to happen around overbuilt subdivisions, master planned communities and urban high rises.


20 03 2008

CNN tries to discredit the local food movement but rightly points out that raising animals for meat is an optional activity that contributes heavily to global warming.

They talk about how important it is for equatorial regions to have the jobs and money that come from exporting exotic fruits and vegetables to us northerners, ignoring the fact that malnutrition is endemic among third world people and the energy it takes to send us tropical fruit and out-of-season vegetables would be better spent feeding the third world–but, just as with grain for gasohol rather than tortillas, los ricos blancos have outbid los pobres, and Economics Almighty doth rule…. “the invisible hand” smites who it listeth….and of course, there’s the legal drug trade–coffee…I mean, we have got to have our coffee, right?  But just say no to drugs….

By Rachel Oliver

(CNN) — Eating ethically is no easy task these days. One problem is deciding which ethic is more important. Keeping third-world farmers in fair trade jobs by purchasing their produce? Or assuaging your concerns over the environmental impact of getting that produce to your kitchen by shopping locally instead?

Up until recently it has been the latter concern — how food is transported — that has hogged the limelight when it comes to looking at the role the food chain plays in climate change. Statistics such as the fact that the average American meal travels on average 1,500 miles before it gets to the diner’s plate, have led to stronger backing for “grow locally” movements.

But the local food movement has been greeted with dismay by the developing world — and for good reason.

According to the UK-based Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), as many as 1.5 million people in the developing world, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, depend on the export horticulture market. Agricultural exports, meanwhile, have been partly to thank for Africa’s economic growth rates of around 5 per cent a year, according to the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

British shoppers alone spend more than $2 million every single day on fruit and vegetables imported from Africa. Encouraging them to shop locally instead of buying imported produce from the developing world could obviously have disastrous consequences for third-world farmers.


This just shows how totally screwed up our economic system really is….

Meat and methane: climate killers?

There is, of course, one other major source of greenhouse gas emissions in the food chain: Meat.

Back in 2006, the FAO revealed that rearing livestock produced more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector — 18 percent of the world’s entire greenhouse gas emissions.

Notably, livestock production generates 37 percent of human-induced methane and 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide emissions. Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of CO2; the impact of nitrous oxide meanwhile is a staggering 296 times more powerful.

Meat and dairy represent 50 percent of “total food related impacts”, according to the Climate Action Program. And in terms of the fossil fuel bill meat runs up, for that family of four who is using up 930 gallons of fossil fuel a year on food, 265 gallons of it goes towards putting meat on their table.

Going vegetarian, or vegan, therefore is being increasingly suggested as one of the best ways to slash our carbon contributions. A University of Chicago study found, for example that meat-eaters individually emit 1.5 more tons of emissions a year than vegetarians or vegans; and according to the OCA, it takes 8 times as many fossil fuels to produce animal protein than their plant equivalent.

Being vegetarian is by no means a panacea, however, as even the OCA concedes that eating a 2 kg box of vegetarian-friendly cereal is the equivalent of burning half a gallon of gasoline.

But perhaps banking on everyone going vegetarian fails to take into account one simple fact: 1.4 billion people work in the global livestock sector and rely on meat-eaters for their livelihoods.

How one would go about telling 1.4 billion people to shut up shop is anyone’s guess.

The same way we tell millions of coal miners and their wealthy bosses to shut up shop–what they are doing is going to get us all killed, and there’s plenty that will help us live that ain’t getting done… 

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