OBAMONSANTO AND OTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTHS

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





U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”








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