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





FOOD FIGHT

7 08 2010

When 20 federal agents show up at a farm and seize farm products and computers, the first thing most people would think is, “marijuana.”  All too often, these days, it’s a different m-word:  milk, and also, sometimes, meat.

In response to demand for better-quality dairy and meat, farmers and local food activists across the country have set up private buying clubs, similar to  fruit-and-vegetable-oriented “Community-Sponsored Agriculture” groups.  Under this arrangement, which is a private agreement among consenting adults and not an open store, raw dairy products and freshly butchered meat move directly from farm to home, with no middleman, resulting in increased returns to the farmers, who need all the returns they can get.

State and federal regulatory agencies are starting to raise hell about this.  It’s hard to say how many farms and co-ops have been raided for “illegal” milk and meat, but the frequency of these raids seems to be increasing.

Illegal milk and meat–who woulda thunk it?  This is the latest bump in the road for the local food movement, and provides a prime example of two things:  first, laws passed because of a certain kind of dangerous behavior are being used to suppress a different, far more benign activity; and, second, big food’s use of the government to enforce its monopoly when other methods fail.

The rise of mass civilization over the last three or four centuries produced many unintended consequences–for that matter, the whole thing was an unintended consequence of unbridled selfishness as an organizing principle for society, but let’s keep it to the milk and meat department for now.

Not so long ago, the main way people had access to dairy products was from owning a milk cow, or knowing somebody who did.  Without refrigeration, fresh milk was a rare and transient treat, and ice cream an even rarer treat for the very wealthy.   Most milk became  yogurt and cheese, which store much better than milk.  Not so long ago, too, people had no clue about the germ theory of disease, and so contamination of fresh, raw milk was easy, unintended, and all too common.

A little more recently, dairy went from being a farm product to being an industry. As with any large capitalist enterprise, it involved underpaid, alienated workers who were not concerned about the quality of what they produced, and management looking for any corner it could get away with cutting.  Not surprisingly, this resulted in frequent contamination of the milk supply, widespread public illness and outcry, and, ultimately, regulation requiring refrigeration and pasteurization in an attempt to  insure safety.

The same thing happened in the meat-packing industry, with Upton Sinclair‘s famous novel “The Jungle” galvanizing public and legislative support in an attempt to clean up the business of keeping America supplied with meat.

But none of this changed the fundamental dynamic.  Workers remain underpaid and alienated, management still cuts every corner it can get away with, and the result is repeated episodes of contaminated products reaching the market, and widespread public doubt about the safety of officially approved practices, such as the use of  the hormone rBST to increase milk production.

Creating alternatives to mainstream meat and dairy products is not as simple as growing your own fruit and vegetables. XX Legally, meat and milk that are sold must be processed in government approved facilities–but the practices in those facilities, and indeed to some extent, their very existence, is the problem for many seeking local, healthier food.  To compound the problem, the regulations have been designed to favor large production facilities, and place onerous, unnecessary burdens on small producers–such as the detail that slaughterhouses have to provide a separate bathroom for the inspectors.

And so, people have formed private buying clubs to circumvent this.  They buy a portion of a milk or dairy cow from a farmer, so that when the cow is milked or slaughtered, it is already “theirs” and the farmer is merely performing a service for them.  This situation is far removed from the alienated, profit-seeking “industry” model that prompted the need for regulation.  There is a bond of trust between farmer and eater, and the farmer wants to give his customers the best quality he can, not the least he can get away with.

The law in many states, however, does not recognize this, and we have the spectacle of state attorneys and department of agriculture personnel roaring self-righteously about shutting down dangerous operations–which may be perfectly legal in a neighboring state.  In fact, some level of raw milk sales is legal in most states–but the federal government prohibits interstate commerce in raw milk, and has actively worked with law enforcement to shut down raw milk sales whenever it could.

There’s an eerie resemblance to the current patchwork state of medical marijuana here.  Another parallel with marijuana is health benefits.  Just as marijuana advocates propound its health benefits, which are vigorously denied by the DEA and some uptight academics and conservative social critics, so advocates of raw milk say that, overall, it’s much healthier for you than processed milk, claims strenuously contested by  many of the same people who oppose marijuana legalization.

But I’m a vegan.  Why do I care about this issue?  They’re not restricting my right to raw beans!  Well, actually, they’ve restricted my right to eat raw almonds.

And that’s where the wider implications of this food fight come in.  The blanket ban on raw almonds was instituted because of a salmonella outbreak that occurred in the almond crop of a large-scale, “factory” almond farm, and this is the same pattern we are seeing all over the “food industry.”  Factory-farmed foods have contamination problems, but the regulation that is introduced in response to these problems makes it much more difficult and expensive for small-scale operators, who are not the source of the problem.

Moreover, this continues the precedent, again, set through the drug laws,  that the government can control what we choose to put into our bodies, for reasons that have more to do with who controls the government than with human health. There are lines that can be drawn, but prohibiting private transactions among consenting adults is not the place. Banning commercial tobacco sales, for example, would be a good idea.  Prohibiting individuals from growing tobacco and giving, or even informally selling it, to their friends, outside a commercial framework, would not be a good idea.  But I digress.

Is it perhaps mere paranoia to think that the government would persecute the raw milk/fresh meat movement at the behest of Big Ag, rather than to protect innocent, misguided citizens from poisoning themselves?

Consider that Obama’s appointments to Ag Department posts look like he did his recruiting almost exclusively at Monsanto, the Fox News of agriculture. Consider that big agriculture, although it would be bad PR to admit it publicly, is concerned about having their market monopoly undermined by local food.  Consider the way corporate policy tends to become government policy, through the irresistible attraction of campaign funding arrangements.  The interwoven media-government-big business cabal will take advantage of every illness that can possibly be attributed to local food to make it seem dangerous, and use every mass release of contaminated food by a multinational food producer to create regulations that are full of loopholes for the big guys and hurdles for the little guys.

It’s about scale.  Raw milk is distinctly local.  It is not a mass-marketable product.  It cannot be transported cross-country, or across a continent, like pasteurized milk. (Most of the store-sold milk in Mongolia, traditionally a big dairy country, is now imported from Europe–but I digress.)  If a batch of raw milk is contaminated,  a few dozen people may be affected. But when the industrial food complex fouls up a batch, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people are poisoned.  Cargill, one of the companies concerned about the dangers of local foods, recently had to recall a million pounds of beef tainted with an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella.  How many people got sick from this?  Who knows?  Most of the  people who ate it were ignorant of its origin.  And of course, the resistant salmonella developed because factory-farmed cows are routinely fed antibiotics.  But that’s another story.

Factory-farmed eggs have had a long history of salmonella contamination.  The FDA has put new rules in place that will not eliminate contamination, but cut it by 60%.  Looking on the bright side, the official announcement says

79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths due to consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis may be avoided each year with new food safety requirements for large-scale egg producers.

So…that means that there will still be 52,000 illnesses and 20 deaths every year due to salmonella-contaminated eggs, and that’s OK.  But raw milk!?  Send in the tac squad!

And don’t get me started on all the lawbreakers who are getting away with it while the government packs heat to bust people with milk cows.  OK, I’ll start a little:  Alberto Gonzalez will not be prosecuted for pushing US Attorney Generals to start cases just to make the Democrats look bad, or for helping John Yoo blow a lot of hot air about why it’s OK for the US to violate the Geneva Conventions and torture people, or just kill them outright.  John Yoo’s not getting prosecuted for that, either.  And not only are the boys at Goldman-Sachs not getting prosecuted for ripping off the rest of us, they’re getting to run the government.

I’m going to close with a quote from farmer and local food activist Joel Salatin:

“This food safety is a very subjective thing. If there’s one thing that stands between freedom and tyranny it’s the choice of being able to decide what to feed our own bodies. If that isn’t the most basic human freedom I don’t know what is.  By what extreme notion has it been decided that it’s perfectly safe to feed our kids Coco Puffs, Twinkies and Mountain Dew but it’s not safe to feed them compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk?”

music:  Greg Brown:  “Canned Goods








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