CORPORATISM WITH THE GLOVES OFF

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 »





RECONSIDERING GMOs

14 08 2016

It’s getting wild out there. There’s a lot going on in the Presidential race, from the Green Party’s post-Sanders bump, to the Democratic Party’s increasing right turn and its decision to aim its propaganda weapons at us, to many curious tales of, and from, the Trump campaign. I’ll probably be back on those beats next month, but this month I’m going to take a look at genetically modified organisms from my “Deep Green Perspective”

Back in June, I received several emails from a long-time friend, urging me to accept the evidence that genetically modified organisms are safe to eat, and thus there is no reason to oppose their rapid introduction into our food stream. I confess, I kind flamed my old friend with the vehemence of my initial “no way!” response. I decided that I owed it to him to read the articles he had sent me with as open a mind as I could muster, and consider the pro-genetic modification argument, instead of only reading the anti-genetic modification campaigners like Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists. I read the National Academy of Science’s report on the safety of genetically modified foods, as well. I’ll tell you up front: I did not change my opinion on the appropriateness of widespread use of genetically modified organisms. Here’s what I wrote my friend.

Dear _______,

I think the best place to start is with this challenge from you:

It’s hard to make the case that we should trust science and act to stem global warming, while at the same time we are scoffing at the statements [PDF] of *snort* scientists on genetic modification.

 We’re looking at two very different kinds of science here. The science of global warming is pretty cut and dried. It involves measuring temperatures and gas concentrations over time, making a graph of them, factoring in possible different levels of future fossil fuel use and other factors that are coming into play such as deforestation, melting permafrost, etc., and noticing that, in a “business as usual scenario,” we are going to be toast in short order.

libertyunderwater

Already in the pipeline? (note green sky due to increased CO2 content)

 

It’s all very quantifiable, very basic chemistry and physics, and what that basic chemistry and physics tells us is that we have in all likelihood dangerously overshot the amount of carbon dioxide we can safely release into the atmosphere and we need to stop all fossil fuel use and commence extreme carbon sequestration and a carbon-neutral culture. Genetically modified crops, and the industrial/chemical agriculture system that they are part and parcel of, are a major source of the excess carbon in our atmosphere, and thus the answer to the science question is that the science of global warming trumps the science of factory farming, which includes pretty much all use of genetically modified organisms. Read the rest of this entry »





NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS

10 11 2012

I have a confession to make.  In spite of my profound intellectual and political distaste for Barack Obama, I did, in fact, feel physically relieved to wake up last Wednesday morning and find out he was still President, and that the country had rejected Mitt Romney and all he stood for.

Let me make this absolutely clear:  I am not “glad Obama is President.”  I am reasonably certain that everything Glenn Greenwald says in his “The Obama tradeoff” paragraph is what a lot of well-meaning people in this country think, consciously or unconsciously:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with a racist religion, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

Please note that climate change and peak resources don’t even enter this equation. But….Obama’s ostensible “liberalness” has sucked so-called “progressive Democrats” into accepting all the short-sighted spending priorities,  infringements on our rights and liberties, and outright war crimes that they protested vigorously when these same moves were attempted by the Cheney administration.  The morally compromised position of having accepted this from a Democrat would have made it awkward for these “liberals” to protest further restrictions coming from a Romney administration, which presumably would have taken an even more bare-knuckles approach to foreign and domestic policy.

Romney was, after all, raised in a homophobic, repressive, misogynistic, anti-small d democratic religion that, until 1978, held as official doctrine that having “black skin and a flat nose” was the “mark of Cain,” and would not allow African-Americans to take part in its ceremonies, let alone become priests. That’s about as gross as racism can get.  Mitt Romney was 31 years old in 1978, a fully responsible adult, and for the first ten years of his adult life, he “approved that message.”  Barack Obama is only the public relations image of a more racially tolerant society, but, in spite of the vast sums of corporate money spent to persuade voters to let an even more voracious fox guard the henhouse, and in spite of a tsunami of laws intended to limit the number of non-rich citizens who could vote,for the most part the spirit of sharing and open-mindedness prevailed over the spirit of narrow-minded selfishness.

And it’s big money’s failure to prevail, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens’ United decision, that is probably the best news about this election. But there were other bright spots. Read the rest of this entry »





IT’S THE END OF THE WORK AS WE’VE KNOWN IT

12 02 2011

Last month, in a post entitled “Dude, where’s my $30K?,” I tried to shed some light on the magnitude of income inequality here in “the land of the free” by pointing out that our country’s per-capita spending on bank bailouts and our military apparatus, plus corporate profits, comes to $30,000 per person.  Yes, that’s $120 thou for a a family of four.  And they say we don’t have money for unemployment benefits, a national health care system, or social security.  Go figure!

That money, all $7.5 trillion of it, is not coming out of our tax dollars, at least not yet.  Mostly, it’s being created out of thin air by “quantitative easing” and/or being borrowed from the Chinese and the Saudis.  It’s not being created by the classic route of taking raw materials, conceiving a use for them, modifying them, and selling a product at a “profit”–profit being both the difference between what workers are paid and the true value of their work, and what we keep for ourselves instead of repairing (if possible) the damage to the environment that our extraction of raw materials has caused.  That paradigm as a road to wealth is obsolete, although it’s obviously what we are going to need to relearn how to do, minus the profit and plus the environmental repair–just to get by, as international trade implodes under the weight of the end of cheap fuel and other raw materials.

I was raised to believe in the virtue of the labor movement.  My early heroes were the IWW martyrs and all those who fought for the poor in the class war that runs through the history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  These were epic struggles for justice.  Workers fought for fair treatment by their employers, and, for a time, prevailed.  The result was the blossoming of the American middle class in the thirty years between the end of World War II and the mid-seventies, which we are starting to realize was America’s “golden age.”

But several things were wrong with that superficially happy picture .

The most obvious, and widely commented on, was the spiritual emptiness of our material paradise, noted by commentators as disparate as Jack Kerouac (who, I hope, needs no introduction!) and Sayyid Qutb, one of the leading lights of the Muslim Brotherhood and, along with the CIA, a major inspiration to the founders of Al Qaeda.  But that’s a whole other story.  Back to “work,” as it were.

Another thing that is wrong with the struggle of the American labor movement is that, after the marginalization of the IWW and the Socialist Party, the labor movement never questioned capitalism as an economic arrangement.  That has been the subject of much commentary and analysis, and certainly has a great deal to do with how the ruling class has been able to dump the American working class and its unions into that famous, even cliched, “dustbin of history.”

But there’s something else the labor movement never questioned, something that has rarely even been noted:  the labor movement, even the Socialists and “radical” anarchists of the IWW, never questioned whether the work they were doing was, in the long run, worth doing.  The forests of America were clearcut, Appalachia was despoiled, and General Motors destroyed America’s interurban railroad system so it could sell more cars–and all the unions wanted was a bigger piece of the pie.  Nobody in the labor movement questioned the wisdom of these moves.

That last one, GM’s dismantling of mass transit in America, is especially worth examining, because shifting from mass transit to personal motorized vehicles has had such a massive, destructive, and likely unintended effect on not only America, but the world.

Because individual automobile ownership has become the norm in this country, our population dispersed over a far wider area than would have been the case had we remained dependent on mass transit.  Suburbia became possible.  Urban sprawl sucked up millions of acres of woodland and farmland adjacent to cities, undermining local self-sufficiency.  In the name of boosting automobile and gasoline sales, our country’s intercity highway system was improved.  Thus subsidized, trucking and automobile travel undermined the country’s long-distance railroad system, once the best in the world.  Now, like the much of the rest of the country’s infrastructure, our railroads are struggling not to fall into third world status.  The net result of this is that now, as petroleum production slips into decline, we are tied to the most petroleum-dependent and inefficient methods of transport–road and air, and our automobile-addicted population is too scattered to be served by mass transit, even if we had the money left to build it.

Wait, there’s more!

The psychological effects of America’s transition to individual automobile transportation are likewise manifold.  Travelers no longer need to deal with railway schedules; we can leave whenever we want to, travel by any route we choose, stop where we feel like stopping, and we don’t have to share our space with anybody else and negotiate whatever compromises that might entail.  We do not sit on benches in train stations waiting for connections.  The primacy of individual preference has been enshrined, from our individual psyches to our lifestyle expectations to our national foreign policy.   It’s all me, all all the time, all splendid isolation, from our far-flung suburban homes to our daily commutes…oops, fewer and fewer of us have a job or the resulting daily commute.

And that is where it all starts falling apart.  I have commented before on the fascistic nature of American society–how our government increasingly exists solely to promote corporate interests.  It’s not just about health care or the right of corporations to spread GMOs for fun and profit. Full participation in American society, if you live outside a few urban areas, requires that automobile ownership.  For most people, that means an investment of twenty to forty thousand dollars or more–hundreds of dollars in monthly payments to a private corporation for an object that, ironically, does nothing but lose value from the moment you drive it off the lot.

Think about how much money is tied up in automobiles.  Five relatively new vehicles are easily worth a hundred thousand dollars.  How many cars do you encounter on a typical drive around town?  Five hundred?  ten million dollars.  Five thousand?  A hundred million dollars worth of automobiles, all stuck in rush hour traffic.

But, as I said, fewer and fewer of us are stuck in rush hour traffic, because fewer and fewer of us have jobs, nor are we going to have “jobs,” at ;east not in the traditional meaning of that term.  As I pointed out last month, it would take 630 businesses with 35,000 employees each just to absorb people who are currently “unemployed,” let alone create cubicles for all those who are, as they say, “just entering the labor market.”  There are no buyers in the labor market, not in America.

But that’s not the same as there being nothing to do.  On the contrary, there is everything to do.  Somewhere along the line in its drive to monetize everything, the official economy of America has largely ceased to do the things that really matter to people.  There is food to grow for people who want something besides sugar, starch, fat, and salt.  There are young people, old people, and sick or handicapped people who need care that is truly caring rather than being motivated by the promise of a paycheck.  Increasingly, there will be a need to manufacture and use basic tools, a need and the skills to sift through America’s trash middens and waste stream to find what can be reused or repurposed.

Our profit-crazed, out-of-touch formal economy now places a higher value on putting people out of their homes than it does on keeping them in those homes.  There are currently eighteen million unoccupied houses in this country, many of them foreclosures, and about 700,000 homeless people.  Do the math.  Many of the unoccupied houses have been stripped of wiring and copper pipes and anything else that could be recycled.  Many homes, unoccupied or occupied, are poorly insulated and inefficiently heated,  These are all jobs screaming out for someone to do them, but there is no money to be had, because housing the poor is of no value to the rich.

Soon enough, it won’t matter.  Our system has stoutly resisted reform, which means that the only alternative left is collapse, and a rebuild from the ground up.  The web of car payments, college loans, and credit card debts that keeps so many ensnared in a world a few removes from reality, running on a paycheck treadmill, will melt away like a bad dream, and we will find ourselves in a different world altogether.  All together, indeed.  That will be the only way to succeed at surviving.  And there will be plenty of work for everyone.

music: Burning Times, “The Only Green World”





OBAMONSANTO

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








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