Friday, November 30, 2007

Proximate Cause In a Long Distance World

Ethical distancing and ethical problems of scale are not limited to high-impact military technology. The behavior and nature of modern technocracies, business, and government organizations are equally illustrative of this cold evil. Witness how corporations, now working on the global scale, routinely make calculated decisions about the risks of the products they manufacture. Typically, they weigh the cost of adding important safety features to their products against the potential liability to victims and the environment and then make the best “bottom line” decision for the company. More often than not, safety or environmental measures lose out in this calculation. As for people or nature, they have been “distanced” into numerical units relegated to profit-or-loss columns. The corporations then decide how many units they can afford to have harmed or killed by their products.

We witness daily the way the modern corporation has become distanced in time and space from its actions. A pesticide company has moved to another country or even gone out of business by the time—years after it has abandoned its chemical plant—the local aquifer and river have become hopelessly polluted, fish and wildlife decimated, and there is a fatal cancer cluster among the families relying on the local water supply. The executives of a tire company are thousands of miles or even a continent away and do not hear the screech of wheels and the screams as their defective tires burst and result in fatal crashes.

The workings of the global trade and finance corporations and organizations epitomize the physical and psychological distancing of cold evil. In the isolation of their First-World offices, members of the World Trade Organization and their partner financiers and economists of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) make decisions affecting millions. This is most evident in the imposition of “structural adjustment” measures on developing countries. For decades the IMF and World Bank loaned money at considerable interest to “developing” nations, essentially to capitalize modernization and technification. The funding was often for huge, ecologically devastating industrial projects. Not surprisingly, much of the money ended up in the hands of corrupt governments or as kickbacks to First-World corporations. As payments became overdue and interest rates skyrocketed, many countries found themselves unable to repay these loans. To solve this repayment problem the IMF and World Bank implemented a series of “structural adjustment programs” (SAPs). These programs involve renegotiating a country’s loan on more favorable terms if it agrees to "adjust” its spending policies, which means reducing wages, lowering labor and environmental standards, slashing social programs (particularly in health, education, and welfare), and allowing increased foreign domination of the country’s industries.

The effects of the SAPs have been disastrous. Millions have lost their jobs and find themselves with no access to housing, health care, or food. Spending on education in many countries has declined by more than 25% in less than a decade. It is now estimated that as many as 19,000 children die every day from disease or malnutrition as a direct consequence of the SAPs mandated by the IMF and World Bank. Yet despite its horrific toll, the cold-evil practice of structural adjustment has gone without ethical censure until quite recently. Contrast this indifference with the public and media outrage that would erupt if a group of terrorists, driven by hot-evil hatred, were killing thousands of children a day. It is now accepted, even by the global financial technocracies, that SAPs have been fiscally ineffective as well as socially and environmentally devastating. But the trade technocrats and corporations simply view this outcome as a policy “miscalculation” that requires “modification.”

Cold evil’s distancing is also profoundly present in those who work for corporations and other technocracies. Our minute and specialized jobs have separated us from ethical consideration of our collective work. Whether processing financial statements at a bank, riveting at a Boeing plant, litigating for a large law firm, or delivering on-line data to corporations, most people’s work represents a tiny cog in the great machine of production. As a result, we become psychologically numbed and removed from the ultimate consequences of the collective work being done. We fall into what E. F. Schumacher termed “‘the sullen irresponsibility” of modern work. Moreover, even if a worker were somehow able to overcome this irresponsibility, to breach the distance and cry out against the immorality of modern production (“I reject this alienating labor. Stop the machines; they are destroying nature, society, and the dignity of work!”), that person’s employment would quickly be terminated.

Virtually all corporations and government bureaucracies are dictatorships in which autocratic managers quickly punish any underling who begins to demand an ethical basis for work and production. Each of us is caught, therefore, in a kind of job blackmail. By allowing ourselves to become numbed by inhuman, meaningless work and to become fully distanced from what we actually produce, we forsake responsibility for the consequences of our production system. We sell our moral birthright in order to “pay the bills.” In this way we each experience our own “pilot’s dilemma.” The distancing endemic to our huge technological system and the massive private and public technocracies that run this system have turned workers, the vast majority of us, into ethical eunuchs and even unintentional criminals.

Whatever their ultimate moral and physical cost, our paychecks do allow many of us to become profligate “consumers.” This cold-evil lifestyle is termed “the good life.” We proudly bring home the new, convenient, “family friendly” SUV, fully distanced from the global warming to which this gas guzzler contributes and the respiratory illnesses it cause in our and our neighbors’ children. Similarly, we buy our kids hamburger meals with “happy face” logos. But both parents and children would recoil with horror if suddenly forced to participate in the almost unspeakably cruel slaughter of the particular cow involved or to take a power saw to the rain forest or personally commit the other environmental crimes behind so many of our fast-food burgers. We turn the computer on without stopping to think that the power is supplied by a nearby nuclear power plant with all of its social and environmental risks. We even feel virtuous eating our vegetables, without a thought to the topsoil loss, pesticide pollution, and loss of diversity caused by their industrial-style production. If we paid attention to the sources of what we buy, we would find that we are complicit in myriad wrongdoings stemming from the technosphere’s systemic evil, which is not easily recognized because of the distancing involved.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We're # 1!: America a Nation of Firsts

Hey, aren't we the most exceptional nation in history? George Bush and his pals thought so -- and they were in a great American tradition of exceptionalism. Of course, they were imagining us as the most exceptional empire in history (or maybe at the end of it), the ultimate New Rome. Anyway, explain this to me: Among all the exceptional things we claim to do, how come we never take credit for what may be the most exceptional of all, our success of successes, the thing that makes us uniquely ourselves on this war-ridden planet -- peddling more arms to Earthlings than anyone else in the neighborhood? Why do we hide this rare talent under a bushel?

They don't call us the sole superpower for nothing. Paul Wolfowitz might be looking for a new job right now, but the term he used to describe the pervasiveness of U.S. might back when he was a mere deputy secretary of defense -- hyperpower -- still fits the bill.

Face it, the United States is a proud nation of firsts. Among them:

First in Oil Consumption:

The United States burns up 20.7 million barrels per day, the equivalent of the oil consumption of China, Japan, Germany, Russia, and India combined.

First in Carbon Dioxide Emissions:

Each year, world polluters pump 24,126,416,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment. The United States and its territories are responsible for 5.8 billion metric tons of this, more than China (3.3 billion), Russia (1.4 billion) and India (1.2 billion) combined.

First in External Debt:

The United States owes $10.040 trillion, nearly a quarter of the global debt total of $44 trillion.

First in Military Expenditures:

The White House has requested $481 billion for the Department of Defense for 2008, but this huge figure does not come close to representing total U.S. military expenditures projected for the coming year. To get a sense of the resources allocated to the military, the costs of the global war on terrorism, of the building, refurbishing, or maintaining of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and other expenses also need to be factored in. Military analyst Winslow Wheeler did the math recently: "Add $142 billion to cover the anticipated costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; add $17 billion requested for nuclear weapons costs in the Department of Energy; add another $5 billion for miscellaneous defense costs in other agencies…. and you get a grand total of $647 billion for 2008."

Taking another approach to the use of U.S. resources, Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard Business School lecturer Linda Bilmes added to known costs of the war in Iraq invisible costs like its impact on global oil prices as well as the long-term cost of health care for wounded veterans and came up with a price tag of between 1 trillion and $2.2 trillion.

If we turned what the United States will spend on the military in 2008 into small bills, we could give each one of the world's more than 1 billion teenagers and young adults an Xbox 360 with wireless controller (power supply in remote rural areas not included) and two video games to play: maybe Gears of War and Command and Conquer would be appropriate. But if we're committed to fighting obesity, maybe Dance Dance Revolution would be a better bet. The United States alone spends what the rest of the world combined devotes to military expenditures.

First in Weapons Sales:

Since 2001, U.S. global military sales have normally totaled between $10 and $13 billion. That's a lot of weapons, but in fiscal year 2006, the Pentagon broke its own recent record, inking arms sales agreements worth $21 billion. It almost goes without saying that this is significantly more than any other nation in the world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The "Free" Market

The so-called "Free Market" is a theory. Which reminds me of a little joke, which I will now paraphrase and mangle:

Sniffed the economist to the reality-based community: "That explanation may be all well and good in reality, but it will never work in theory."

There is a reason why economics is called the "dismal science".

Econ 101: The most important condition that needs to be present in a free market is free, instantaneous, accurate, universally available information, which, alas, is against all universal laws of physics and human nature. That old reality thing again, it just won't quit, will it?

If, in Bizarro World, all necessary conditions are met, free market theory explains market behavior in the _______ run. If you answered "Short", go sew some burlap bags together and find your scythe, because Serf's Up!

If the free market corrects itself in the long run, what happens in the short run? Besides bargain-hunting and profit taking? How about lead in toys? Or Enron con games? Or exploding gasoline tanks? Or salmonella in spinach?

If enough people get hurt, the word trickles out and eventually the trickle becomes a rivulet and then a puddle and before long a little pond might form and then a crick and an arroyo then a gulley washer, well... you get my drift - it takes time for word to get to the market and force a correction. Harm to humans in short run, before "free market" correction in long run. That's all one really needs to know about the free market theory.

Goddamn, who could be against free markets!!! If you're against free markets, why, you're against FREEDOM, right?

The reality is that government regulations, and the insider elites who actually control the government regulations through the political process, as well as insider elite self-dealing, cancel out the conditions necessary for even a semblance of a free market. Klein's point is these elites use "shocks", both cynically those they manufacture and opportunistically those that just happen, as an excuse for repression by manipulating the so-called free market.

I am open to other explanations, if anyone has any.

Did I say the free market was a theory? Sorry, I was wrong. The Free Market is a big fat LIE.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I think civilizations are like dramas, with themes and roles and a plot. The major themes of western civilization have become unsustainable. We stern civilization has played itself out. The "game" has become uninteresting and unfulfilling. Every path is blocked and there is no next step, no new frontier. All of its traditions have been destroyed and all of its dreams snuffed out - and this just in our lifetimes, which is lightning fast. Part of the drama (and intrigue and excitement) of western civilization was its go for broke derring do speed and daring, so it probably shouldn't surprise us that it is going down fast and hard.

It can't go on. It won't. The attempts by the fundamentalists and racists and capitalists and jingoists to save it are futile and absurd, because their very efforts are just part of the drama of the collapse. At the same time, the urge to tear it down is just another role to play in the final act of the great drama.

We have a unique opportunity to step outside of the drama, that only comes once in a long while in history. We are in a civilization that is collapsing. We can't save it, we can't kill it. You might as well try to “help” a tidal wave or stop it.

What we can do, though, us plant the seeds for what comes next. It is not too early to start. I would cite the last great example of this from history, but since that is part of the drama of western civilization and we are all “against” western civilization, we would probably reject it as a model for us.

There is a lot to discuss. There is a lot of work to do. But we need to step off the sinking ship, figuratively speaking. There is a lot of tension for all of us because everything we see says that the ship is sinking, but we keep arguing about the best way to stop it from sinking, or among other groups they are arguing about plans for the future as though it isn't sinking. That causes a lot of tension and confusion and miscommunication.

Recognizing that the ship is sinking does not have to be depressing or discouraging – quite the opposite. To say “look at the murder and slavery and torture and lawlessness and environmental destruction and hatred” and then demand that we all put on a happy face and be positive is asking us to do something that we can't and shouldn't do. Nor should we give up and be without hope, though. Our hope is in something completely new while at the same time we don't kid ourselves about the dangers we are facing nor the probable hardships ahead.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mass Surveillance in Prison America®

The Panopticon is defined as a prison so constructed that the inspector can see each of the prisoners at all times, without being seen. This is an accurate description of the accelerating movement by western governments to erect giant, powerful, all-pervading mass surveillance, tracking and control grids that will keep all populations firmly under the baleful and watchful gaze of Big Brother.

We are still debating the NSA listening to foreign calls from the US when the NSA admitted twenty years ago that they were listening to domestic US calls under the Echelon program. This is de-classified and public but the media acts like they don't know about it.

Why is there even a debate about if they are tracking and tracing us when RFID transponders are going in cars nationwide to follow our every movement?

This system has already been partly implemented in Britain with barely a whimper of dissent.

You can call your cell phone company, ask them where you are and they will tell you down to a few feet. That is a federal operation that's hooked into the NSA right at this moment and about to be hooked into every major police department and squad car. Your name, everything about you, what you're doing, where you're going and the cop can punch in a few keys and use your phone as an audio sensor.

Major cities such as Austin, Texas installed gunshot detection microphones. The government assured us that they respect our privacy but the very companies installing them bragged about how they can listen to a kid on the street talking to his friend two hundred yards away.

And now, from Rochester New York to Austin Texas to Chicago, the government has announced that they are being used as microphones and they will be used to listen to us.

Big Neighbor is Watching

He's a friendly guy and you let him into your house because he is delivering
an air conditioner on a sweltering day in August. And he makes some amiable
conversation, the guy loves your house and when you show him around,
he's blown away by all those old 60's posters on the wall.
"Must have been a great time" he declares.

The delivery guy leaves and you forget him and concentrate on the air conditioner
and getting cool. But the guy doesn't forget about you, on the contrary, he makes
a full report about your posters to Homeland Security. It seems he has another job,
that runs parallel to his deliveries and installations. The friendly man who loves
your house is an informant volunteer for the Justice Department's new agency and
its nationwide program of participatory dictatorship called TIPS.

All over America postmen, parcel deliverers and all kinds of repair people and truck
drivers are being recruited and trained in the paranoiac practice of reporting on the
suspicious or unusual behavior of their fellow citizens. It is perhaps the most terrifying of the various tyrannical measures that have been employed by George Bush since September 11 in order to insure the preservation of American freedom.

Getting citizens to spy on their neighbors in large numbers, and FEMA plans to beat
East Germany's record, involves the destruction of our civil society and the
replacement of communal sensibility with chilling paranoia.

When Big Neighbor is watching, the necessary distance beteen society and state
is pushed aside and we are left with massive mistrust, fear and a sense that
1984 wasn't just a scary book.

Usually repression does not base itself on the mass recruiting of prolitarians.
But in this lazy consumerist age when so many people have their objects of desire
delivered to their door and a multitude of workers get to see where you live, it
makes sense that at least the most mobile members of the working class would be
eagerly sought out for snooping and betrayals of trust and the good neighbor policy.

Some American workers will be taught how to parley a friendly smile into amateur
espionage. To keep things fair, everyone in the country, even rich people, will be
encouraged to spy on their neighbors. The TIPS informants will have stickers prominently displayed on their vehicles offering phone numbers where the stray snoop and gossip can call in information about any observed offbeat behavior and eccentric happenings.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Company Research on Genetically Modified Foods is Rigged

Company Research on Genetically Modified Foods is Rigged
Nov 21, 2007 - 7:02:14 PM

In 2004, four advocates of genetically modified (GM) foods published a study in the British Food Journal that was sure to boost their cause <1> According to the peer-reviewed paper, when shoppers in a Canadian farm store were confronted with an informed and unbiased choice between GM corn and non-GM corn, most purchased the GM variety. This finding flew in the face of worldwide consumer resistance to GM foods, which had shut markets in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. It also challenged studies that showed that the more information on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) consumers have, the less they trust them. <2> The study, which was funded by the biotech-industry front group, Council for Biotechnology Information and the industry’s trade association, the Crop Protection Institute of Canada (now Croplife Canada), was given the Journal’s prestigious Award for Excellence for the Most Outstanding Paper of 2004 and has been cited often by biotech advocates.

Stuart Laidlaw, a reporter from Canada’s Toronto Star, visited the farm store several times during the study and described the scenario in his book Secret Ingredients. Far from offering unbiased choices, key elements appeared rigged to favor GM corn purchases. The consumer education fact sheets were entirely pro-GMO, and Doug Powell, the lead researcher, enthusiastically demonstrated to Laidlaw how he could convince shoppers to buy the GM varieties. He confronted a farmer who had already purchased non-GM corn. After pitching his case for GMOs, Powell proudly had the farmer tell Laidlaw that he had changed his opinion and would buy GM corn in his next shopping trip.

Powell’s interference with shoppers’ “unbiased” choices was nothing compared to the effect of the signs placed over the corn bins. The sign above the non-GM corn read, “Would you eat wormy sweet corn?” It further listed the chemicals that were sprayed during the season. By contrast, the sign above the GM corn stated, “Here’s What Went into Producing Quality Sweet Corn.” It is no wonder that 60% of shoppers avoided the “wormy corn.” In fact, it may b e a testament to people’s distrust of GMOs that 40% still went for the “wormy” option.

Powell and his colleagues did not mention the controversial signage in their study. They claimed that the corn bins in the farm store were “fully labelled”—either “genetically engineered Bt sweet corn” or “Regular sweet-corn.”

When Laidlaw’s book came out, however, Powell’s “wormy” sign was featured in a photograph, <3> exposing what was later described by Cambridge University’s Dr. Richard Jennings as “flagrant fraud.” Jennings, who is a leading researcher on scientific ethics, says, “It was a sin of omission by failing to divulge information which quite clearly should have been disclosed.” <4>

Jennings is among several scientists and outraged citizens that say the paper should have been withdrawn, but the Journal refused. Instead, it published a criticism of the methods by Canadian geneticist Joe Cummins, and allowed Powell to respond with a lengthy reply. <5>

In his defence, Powell claimed that his signs merely used the language of consumers and was “not intended to manipulate consumer purchasing patterns.” He also claimed that the “wormy” corn sign was only there for the first week of the trial and was then replaced by other educational messages. But eye witnesses and photographs demonstrate the presence of the sign long after Powell’s suggested date of replacement. <6>

This incident illustrates how so-called scientific papers can be manipulated to force conclusions favorable to authors or funders and how peer-reviewed journals may be complicit. While the subject of this particular study provided ammunition in the battle to deny choice to consumers in North America, there is similar “cooked” research in the more critical area of GMO safety assessments.




Whenever private submissions are made public through lawsuits or Freedom of Information Act Requests, it becomes clear why companies benefit from secrecy. The quality of their research is often miserable, incompetent, and unacceptable for peer-review. In 2000, for example, after the potentially allergenic StarLink corn was discovered in the food supply, Aventis CropScience presented wholly inadequate safety data to the EPA’s scientific advisory panel. One frustrated panel member, Dean Metcalfe, MD,—the government’s top allergist—said during a hearing, “Most of us review for a lot of journals. And if this were presented for publication in the journals that I review for, it would be sent back to the authors with all of these questions. It would be rejected.” <8>

Submissions to the US Food and Drug Administraion (FDA) may be worse than in other countries, since the agency doesn’t actually require any data. Their policy—overseen by Monsanto’s former attorney who later became the company’s vice president—says that biotech companies can determine if their own foods are safe. Anything submitted is voluntary and, according to former Environmental Protection Agency scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman, “often lack sufficient detail, such as necessary statistical analyses needed for an adequate safety evaluation.” Using Freedom of Information Requests, Gurian-Sherman analyzed more than a fourth of the data summaries (14 of 53) of GM crops reviewed by the FDA. He says, “Our evaluation found that the biotechnology companies provide inadequate data to ensure their products are safe.” <9>


“Most or all of the conclusions of food safety for individual GM crops are based on inferences and assumptions, rather than on actual testing,” says Professor E. Ann Clark, who analyzed submissions to Canadian regulators. For example, rather than actually testing to see if the amino acid sequence produced by their inserted gene is correct, “the standard practice,” according to research analyst William Freese, “is to sequence just 5 to 25 amino acids, even if the protein has more than 600 in total. If the short sample matches what is expected, they assume that the rest are also fine. If they are wrong, however, a rearranged protein could be quite dangerous.”

Monsanto’s submission to Australian regulators on their high lysine GM corn provides several examples of optimistic assumptions used in place of science. The GM protein produced in the corn is also found in soil. The company claimed that since people consume small residues of soil on fruits and vegetables, the protein has a history of safe consumption. An independent calculation by the Centre for Integrated Research on Biosafety (INBI), however, reveals the weakness of this argument. Based on the amount of GM corn protein an average US citizen would consume (if all their corn were Monsanto’s variety), “for equivalent exposure” of the protein from soil “people would have to eat between 80-800 million (males) or 60-700 million (females) kilograms of soil each day, or nearly as much as 10,000kg/second 24 hours a day seven days a week.” INBI estimated that the normal exposure to the protein from soil residues was actually “about 30 billion-4 trillion times less than exposure through corn.” <10>

In addition, certain nutritional components of this GM variety (i.e. protein content, total dietary fiber, acid detergent fiber, and neutral detergent fiber) lie far outside the normal range for corn. Instead of comparing their corn to normal controls, which would reveal this disparity, Monsanto compared it to obscure corn varieties that were also substantially outside the normal range on precisely these values.

Epidemiologist Judy Carman points out that GM “experiments used some very unusual animal models for human health, such as chickens, cows and trout. Some of the measurements taken from these animals are also unusual measures of human health, such as abdominal fat pad weight, total de-boned breast meat yield, and milk production.” In her examination of the full range of submittals to authorities in Australia and New Zealand, she says that there was no proper evaluation of “biochemistry, immunology, tissue pathology, and gut, liver and kidney function.” <11> Writing on behalf of the Public Health Association of Australia, Carman says, “The effects of feeding people high concentrations of the new protein over tens of years cannot be determined by feeding 20 mice a single oral gavage of a given high concentration of the protein and taking very basic data for 13-14 days . . .The acute toxicity testing proposed as adequate would simply not pick up cancer, teratology or the long-tem effects of nutrient deficiencies or increases in anti-nutrients.” <12>


When independent researchers published a study in July 1999 showing that GM soy contains 12%-14% less cancer-fighting phytoestrogens, Monsanto responded with its own study, concluding that soy’s phytoestrogen levels vary too much to even carry out a statistical analysis. Researchers failed to disclose, however, that they had instructed the laboratory to use an obsolete method of detection—one that had been prone to highly variable results. <13>












Monsanto’s 1996 Journal of Nutrition study <14> , <15> provides plenty of examples of scientific transgressions. Roundup Ready soybeans are engineered to withstand the normally fatal effects of Monsanto’s herbicide called Roundup. Monsanto scientists published a feeding study that purported to test their soybeans’ effect on rats, catfish, chickens, and cows. The study has been used often by the industry as validation for safety claims. According to Dr. Arpad Pusztai, however, “It was obvious that the study had been designed to avoid finding any problems. Everybody in our consortium knew this.” Pusztai was commissioned at the time by the UK government to develop rigorous testing protocols on GM foods—protocols that were never implemented. Pusztai, who had published several studies in that same nutrition journal, said the Monsanto paper was “not really up to the normal journal standards.” Pusztai says that if he had been asked to referee the paper for publication, “it would never have passed.” He’s confident that even his graduate assistants would have taken the study apart in short order. Some of the flaws include:

Researchers tested GM soy on mature animals, not young ones. Young animals use protein to build their muscles, tissues, and organs. Problems with GM food could therefore show up in organ and body weight. But adult animals use the protein for tissue renewal and energy. “With a nutritional study on mature animals,” says Pusztai, “you would never see any difference in organ weights even if the food turned out to be anti-nutritional. The animals would have to be emaciated or poisoned to show anything.”
Even if there were an organ development problem, the study wouldn’t have picked it up since the researchers didn’t weigh the organs.
In one of the trials, researchers substituted only one tenth of the natural protein with GM soy protein. In two others, they diluted their GM soy six- and twelve-fold. <16> Scientists Ian Pryme of Norway and Rolf Lembcke of Denmark wrote, the “level of the GM soy was too low, and would probably ensure that any possible undesirable GM effects did not occur.”
Pryme and Lembcke, who published a paper in Nutrition and Health that analyzed all peer-reviewed feeding studies on GM foods as of 2003, also pointed out that the percentage of protein in the feed used in the Roundup Ready study was “artificially too high.” This “would almost certainly mask, or at least effectively reduce, any possible effect of the .” They said it was “highly likely that all GM effects would have been diluted out.” <17>
Proper compositional studies filter out effects of weather or geography by comparing plants grown at the same time in the same location. Monsanto, however, pooled data from several locations, which makes it difficult for differences to be statistically significant. Nonetheless, the data revealed significant differences in the ash, fat, and carbohydrate content. Roundup Ready soy meal also contained 27% more trypsin inhibitor, a potential allergen, which might explain the sudden jump in soy allergies in the UK beginning right after Roundup Ready soy was introduced. Also, cows fed GM soy produced milk with a higher fat content, demonstrating another disparity between the two types of soy.

One field trial, however, did grow GM and non-GM plants next to each other, but this data was not included in the paper. Years after the study appeared, medical writer Barbara Keeler discovered the data that had been omitted. It showed that Monsanto’s GM soy had significantly lower levels of protein, a fatty acid, and phenylalanine, an essential amino acid. Also, toasted GM soy meal contained nearly twice the amount of a lectin—one that may interfere with the body’s ability to assimilate other nutrients. And the amount of trypsin inhibitor in cooked GM soy was as much as seven times higher than a cooked non-GM control.
The study also omitted many details normally required for a published paper. According to Pryme and Lembcke, “No data were given for most of the parameters.”
And when researchers tested the effects of Roundup Ready protein on animals, they didn’t extract the protein from the soybeans. Instead, they derived it from GM bacteria, claiming the two forms of protein were equivalent. There are numerous ways, however, in which the protein in the soy may be different. In fact, nine years after this study was published, another study showed that the gene inserted into the soybeans produced unintended aberrant RNA strands, meaning that the protein may be quite different than what was intended. <18>

In Pryme and Lembcke’s analysis, it came as no surprise that this Monsanto study, along with the other four peer-reviewed animal feeding studies that were “performed more or less in collaboration with private companies,” reported no negative effects of the GM diet. “On the other hand,” they wrote, “adverse effects were reported (but not explained) in independent studies.” They added, “It is remarkable that these effects have all been observed after feeding for only 10–14 days.” <19>


Two GM foods whose commercialization was stopped because of negative test results give a chilling example of what may be getting through. Rats fed GM potatoes had potentially precancerous cell growth in the stomach and intestines, less developed brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver, and damaged immune systems. <20> GM peas provoked an inflammatory response in mice, suggesting that the peas might trigger a deadly anaphylactic shock in allergic humans. <21> Both of these dangerous crops, however, could easily have been approved. The problems were only discovered because the researchers used advanced tests that were never applied to GM crops already on the market. Both would have passed the normal tests that companies typically use to get their products approved.

Ironically, when Monsanto was asked to comment on the pea study, their spokesperson said it demonstrated that the regulatory system works. He failed to disclose that none of the company’s GM crops had been put through such rigorous tests.


Industry-funded research that favors the funders is not new. Bias has been identified across several industries. In pharmaceuticals, for example, positive results are four times more likely if the drug’s manufacturer funds the study. <22> When companies pay for the economic analyses of their own cancer drugs, the results are eight times more likely to be favorable. <23> Compared to drug research, the potential for industry manipulation in GM crop studies is considerably higher. Unlike pharmaceutical testing, GM research has no standardized procedures dictated by regulators. GM studies are not usually published in peer-reviewed journals and are typically kept secret by companies and governments. There is little money available for rigorous independent research, so company evidence usually goes unchallenged and unverified. Most importantly, whereas drugs can show serious side-effects and still be approved, GM food cannot. There is no tolerance for adverse reactions; feeding trials must show no problems.

Thus, when industry studies show problems (in spite of their efforts to avoid them), serious adverse reactions and even deaths among GM-fed animals are ignored or dismissed as “not biologically significant ” or due to “natural variation s.”

Numerous reports including peer-reviewed articles and part 3 of the book Genetic Roulette are replete with examples of rigged research. But making these public does not seem to curtail its practice. Consider the wormy corn of the British Food Journal. Not only has the editor refused to retract the paper, he has not even agreed to reconsider its Award for Excellence. A blatant propaganda exercise still stands validated as exemplary science.

In the critical arena of food safety research, where the health of society is caught in the balance, it is entirely unacceptable that the biotech industry is without accountability, standards, or peer-review. At our expense, they’ve got bad science down to a science.


Jeffrey M. Smith is the author of the new publication Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, which presents 65 risks in easy-to-read two-page spreads. His first book, Seeds of Deception, is the top rated and #1 selling book on GM foods in the world. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, which is spearheading the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America. Go to to learn more about how to avoid GM foods.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Two myths that keep the world poor

Global poverty is a hot topic right now. But anyone serious about ending it needs to understand the true causes, argues Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva.

From rock singer Bob Geldof to UK politician Gordon Brown, the world suddenly seems to be full of high-profile people with their own plans to end poverty. Jeffrey Sachs, however, is not a simply a do-gooder but one of the world’s leading economists, head of the Earth Institute and in charge of a UN panel set up to promote rapid development. So when he launched his book The End of Poverty, people everywhere took notice. Time magazine even made it into a cover story.

But, there is a problem with Sachs’ how-to-end poverty prescriptions.He simply doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. “A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,” he writes, then adding: “The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.”

This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been “left behind”; they are the ones who have been robbed. The wealth accumulated by Europe and North America are largely based on riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the takeover of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without African slavery, the Industrial Revolution would not have resulted in new riches for Europe or North America. It was this violent takeover of Third World resources and markets that created wealth in the North and poverty in the South.

Two of the great economic myths of our time allow people to deny this intimate link, and spread misconceptions about what poverty is.

First, the destruction of nature and of people’s ability to look after themselves are blamed not on industrial growth and economic colonialism, but on poor people themselves. Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered as a cure: further economic growth is supposed to solve the very problems of poverty and ecological decline that it gave rise to in the first place. This is the message at the heart of Sachs’ analysis.

The second myth is an assumption that if you consume what you produce, you do not really produce, at least not economically speaking. If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then it doesn’t contribute to GDP, and therefore does not contribute towards “growth”.

People are perceived as “poor” if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.

Yet sustenance living, which the wealthy West perceives as poverty, does not necessarily mean a low quality of life. On the contrary, by their very nature economies based on sustenance ensure a high quality of life—when measured in terms of access to good food and water, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, robust social and cultural identity, and a sense of meaning in people’s lives . Because these poor don’t share in the perceived benefits of economic growth, however, they are portrayed as those “left behind”.

This false distinction between the factors that create affluence and those that create poverty is at the core of Sachs’ analysis. And because of this, his prescriptions will aggravate and deepen poverty instead of ending it. Modern concepts of economic development, which Sachs sees as the “cure” for poverty, have been in place for only a tiny portion of human history. For centuries, the principles of sustenance allowed societies all over the planet to survive and even thrive. Limits in nature were respected in these societies and guided the limits of human consumption. When society’s relationship with nature is based on sustenance, nature exists as a form of common wealth. It is redefined as a “resource” only when profit becomes the organising principle of society and sets off a financial imperative for the development and destruction of these resources for the market.

However much we choose to forget or deny it, all people in all societies still depend on nature. Without clean water, fertile soils and genetic diversity, human survival is not possible. Today, economic development is destroying these onetime commons, resulting in the creation of a new contradiction: development deprives the very people it professes to help of their traditional land and means of sustenance, forcing them to survive in an increasingly eroded natural world.

A system like the economic growth model we know today creates trillions of dollars of super profits for corporations while condemning billions of people to poverty. Poverty is not, as Sachs suggests, an initial state of human progress from which to escape. It is a final state people fall into when one-sided development destroys the ecological and social systems that have maintained the life, health and sustenance of people and the planet for ages. The reality is that people do not die for lack of income. They die for lack of access to the wealth of the commons. Here, too, Sachs is wrong when he says: “In a world of plenty, 1 billion people are so poor their lives are in danger.” The indigenous people in the Amazon, the mountain communities in the Himalayas, peasants anywhere whose land has not been appropriated and whose water and biodiversity have not been destroyed by debt-creating industrial agriculture are ecologically rich, even though they earn less than a dollar a day.

On the other hand, people are poor if they have to purchase their basic needs at high prices no matter how much income they make. Take the case of India. Because of cheap food and fibre being dumped by developed nations and lessened trade protections enacted by the government, farm prices in India are tumbling, which means that the country’s peasants are losing $26 billion U.S. each year. Unable to survive under these new economic conditions, many peasants are now poverty-stricken and thousands commit suicide each year. Elsewhere in the world, drinking water is privatised so that corporations can now profit to the tune of $1 trillion U.S. a year by selling an essential resource to the poor that was once free. And the $50 billion U.S. of “aid” trickling North to South is but a tenth of the $500 billion being sucked in the other direction due to interest payments and other unjust mechanisms in the global economy imposed by the World Bank and the IMF.

If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the systems that create poverty by robbing the poor of their common wealth, livelihoods and incomes. Before we can make poverty history, we need to get the history of poverty right. It’s not about how much wealthy nations can give, so much as how much less they can take.

- Vandana Shiva

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There is no political solution

Please let me package a "solution" for you in nice and pretty, American-style, wrapping. All slick and shiny and ready for you to take home.

I really hope that's not what you expect when you ask for some "solution." The mere asking of this question betrays the lack of understanding of the fundamental issue here: That in order to find a "solution", or is it THE SOLUTION®, you must completely remove yourself from the reality that you have believed in through the years. This in and of itself is a very difficult task, and most people who sincerely want to "help the earth" (or humanity) die never understanding this. This is why so many feel hopeless about not being able to create true change. Because you're still looking for solutions on the same platform that caused the problems.

Strength in humility is a myth. Passive denial of the enormity of the problems that confront us and the radical solutions needed to address these, while understandable in light of all the devastation being visited upon the Earth by developers, corporate greed heads and a largely acquiescent populace, is still an indefensible and repugnant position.

As long as women and African-Americans were nice humble and passive what did they get? Nothing. Unless you count subjugation and servitude as something. Would those in power one day have awakened one day in a particularly genial and loving mood having experienced some psycho-spiritual transformation and said, "You are so nice and humble I'm going to allow you to vote, own property and while we're at it let's throw in equal pay?"

Dream on.

It took suffragettes and civil rights activists being insistent, unpleasantly arrogant, unrelenting and a willingness to risk what little they did have to attain the few freedoms that are "allowed" today. This meant laying their bodies on the line.

Those who are destroying our earth and our communities at breakneck speed are as humble and caring as barracudas, with all apologies to the more gentle piscine creatures, and will not easily or at all relinquish their stranglehold on the gasping planet or your neck.

What it will take is nothing short of large scale purposeful sustained direct actions that bring the system to a halt. This means tremendous sacrifice. This means discomfort. In this there is the inevitably of tremendous risk.

The only remedy will be when people begin to get interested in taking back active control of the processes that rule their lives and work with each other rather than crossing their fingers and heading off to the ballot box.

There is no political solution.

Friday, November 16, 2007

When was that?

What gets to me is people thinking America was once a great country with a moral compass? When was that? I must have missed that part of history. From the massacres of Indians, to slavery, to Hiroshima, Vietnam, to its policies in Latin America, to its support for the creation of the terrorist state of Israel, to supporting the Shah of Iran, to supporting Saddam with intelligence and chemical weapons against the Iranian people, to these modern day Middle East debacles, America has by far the worst track record. They just have a very powerful propaganda machine to show they are the land of the free.

"We" stole half of Mexico by armed force -- the nice parts with rich deposits of gold and silver (and, as it turned out, oil -- though "we" didn't actually recognize that at the time.)

"We" made sure that "our" influence over Latin America was such that wealth would be steadily transferred from their countries to ours. "We" sent the Marines to Nicaragua, Haiti, & Guatemala often enough to insure that life in those countries would be a permanent living hell for most of the inhabitants. "We" imposed military dictatorships in almost every Central & South American country, stunting the aspirations of their people, & imposing conditions from which some of those countries will never recover. (So if some of the people want to escape from the living conditions in those countries, "we" had very much to do with creating those conditions.)

Interestingly, "we" started doing all this at the same time that "we" were exterminating the indigenous people here, AND using black slaves from Africa. What a loveable, righteous people "we" are, here in the "Land of the Free"!!

To read between the lines of today's American media treatment of the issue, the real "controversy" today is not between decent humane treatment for immigrants; and harassment by racists, vigilantes, and police. It's between two factions of rightwing opinion: should immigrants be exploited for their cheap labor (and their delightful inability to defend themselves), or should racism and xenophobia be pandered to, by encouraging nutcases like the Minutemen, and other "red blooded Amurrikans" who think it's exciting to organize mobs to defend white supremacy? This is a serious "issue" for people like Bush, who is doubtless torn, & genuinely sympathetic to both sides.


"We" came here somewhere in the early 1600s. "We" found this Promised Land, rich beyond imagination with fresh water and fertile earth and abundant game and timber for the felling. And to "our" further delight, it was largely uninhabited--if "we" didn't count the Red Ones.

"We" didn't see too many of them at first; they avoided our noise and the smoke from our fires, which were always too big. But soon enough, "we" were here in such numbers that they couldn't go around us anymore.

"We" were shocked--SHOCKED, I tell ya--that there were Savages in "our" Promised Land! So "we" set about exterminating them. "We" killed them whenever "we" saw them, "we" drove them from their land and their homes, "we" slaughtered their food supply and left the buffalo bodies to rot in the sun by the hundreds of acres. "We" gave them blankets full of smallpox, murdered their children and raped their women before "we" murdered them as well. "We" rounded them up into concentration camps and ate their food while they starved. "We" made them cut their hair, wear britches and beat them to death if they wouldn't speak "our" language.

"We" stole a whole fucking continent from them and paid them in Genocide.

And now "we're" worried about Illegal Immigration?

The Function of the Democratic Party in the Political System

The Democratic Party plays an indispensable role in society's political machinery. This doesn't mean it has any power, in terms of controlling the state or setting policy. It means that without the existence of the Dem Party, the US could no longer maintain the pretense that it's a "democracy." If the Dem Party disintegrated, the US would be revealed for what it really is -- a one-party state ruled by a narrow alliance of business interests.

In terms of defending the general population against the depredations of this business consortium, the Dem Party gave up the ghost in the mid-1960's. Their threadbare act as the "Party of the People" serves not to defend the well-being of the population, but merely to persuade ordinary citizens that within the official political system's framework, there's at least some faint hope for eventual progressive change. Their focus is not so much being on our side, as convincing us that they're on our side -- without the slightest serious examination of what that might entail.

The party's true function is thus largely theatrical. It doesn't exist to fight for change, but only to pose as a force which one fine distant day might possibly bestir itself to fight for change. Thus the whole magic of the Dem Party -- the essential service it renders to the US power structure -- lies not in what it does, but in its mere existence: by simply existing, and doing nothing, it pretends to be something it's not; and this is enough to relieve despair & to let the system portray itself as a "democracy."

As long as the Dem Party exists, most Americans will believe we have a "democracy" and a "choice" in how we are ruled. They will not despair, and will not revolt, as long as they have this hope for "change within the system." From the system's point of view, this mechanism serves as the ultimate safety valve -- it insures against a despairing populace, thus eliminates the threat of rebellion; yet guarantees that no serious change to the system will be mounted, because the Dems weren't designed to play that role in the first place.

Aren't the Dems The Lesser Evil?

The Democrats are not the "lesser evil;" they are an auxiliary subdivision of the same evil. To understand the political system, one must step back and regard its operation as an integrated whole. The system can't be properly understood if one's study of it begins with an uncritical acceptance of the 2-party system, and the conventional characterizations of the two parties. (Indeed, the fact that society encourages one to view it in this latter way, is perhaps a warning that this perspective should not be trusted.)

Any given piece of reactionary legislation is invariably supported by a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats. Does this show that the Democrats are "less evil?" If one focuses on the noble efforts of the few outspoken dissenters, it's easy to feel that the Democrats are somewhat less evil. But in the larger picture, Democrats invariably submit to what Republicans more ardently promulgate, & the entire range of official opinion thereby shifts to the right. Thus the overall function of Democrats is not so much to fight, as to quasi-passively participate in this ever-rightward-moving process. Just as the Harlem Globetrotters need their Washington Generals to make their basketball games properly entertaining, Republicans need the Democrats for effective staging of the political show.

The Democrats are permitted to exist because their vague hint of eventual progressive change keeps large numbers of people from bolting the political system altogether. Emma Goldman once said, "If voting made a difference, it would be illegal." Similarly, if the Democrats potentially threatened any sort of serious change, they would be banned. The fact that they are fully accepted by the corporations and political establishment tells us at once that their ultimate function must be wholly in line with the interests of those ruling groups.

Doesn't the presence of the Dennis Kuciniches, Cynthia McKinneys, et al "prove" that the Democrats are progressive? No. The Kuciniches and McKinneys are indeed significantly different from the Hillary types -- but there are compelling reasons not to get too excited about them, either. First, they are used by the party as a "Left decoration," simply to keep potential left defectors in tow. Secondly, the party power brokers will NEVER in a million years let the Kucinich-McKinney faction have any real power.

In other words, the very modestly-sized progressive Dem faction is cynically used as a marketing tool by the national party. They are dangled before your eyes to make you think that the Dems are the "lesser evil" (since the Republicans offer no such Left decorations). The existence of a few decent Dems makes no real difference in the overall alignment of the party, and they will never be internally influential. They are a distraction.

Can Progressives "Take Over" the Dem Party?

The argument is often advanced by progressives that they might be able to "take over" the Dem Party just as the Republican Party was supposedly "taken over" by the Religious Right and neoconservatives. This is wishful thinking, and ignores the actual history and character of both parties.

The Republicans were always the party of Wall Street & Northern manufacturing. The Democrats were the party of the Southern slaveocracy. When the national Democrats defied southern racism by passing the Civil Rights Acts in the mid '60's, the southern states bolted, destroying the New Deal coalition. The Republicans profited from this by adapting to southern tastes, values, & religious/cultural conceptions.

But this was in no way out of character for the Republicans. The far right was able to take over the Republican Party because that kind of alliance was always very much in the nature of the Republican Party anyway. It was compatible with, not contradictory to, the big-business nature of the Republican party. Forming an alliance with fascists, racists & religious zealots ADVANCED the big-business agenda.

By contrast, for progressives to take over the Democrats would be an unprecedented departure from the party's character. To understand this, one must first recognize that the sole Dem claim to being progressive is rooted almost entirely in the New Deal, itself a response to a unique crisis in American history. FDR recognized that to avert the very real threat of massive social unrest and instability, significant concessions had to be made to the working class by the ruling class. Government could act to defend the weak, and to some extent to rein in the strong, but this was all in the longterm interests of defending the existing social order.

Before FDR, the Dem Party had no progressive record whatsoever; and after FDR, though the New Deal coalition survived until the mid-1960's, it did so with a record of achievement that was restrained compared to the 1930's. After passing Medicare in 1965 the party reverted to its longterm pattern, and since then, there has again been no progressive record to speak of. The party's progressive social reform was thus concentrated mostly in the 1930's, with some residual momentum lasting until the mid 60's. The party's "progressive period" was thus 1) an exception to the longer term pattern; 2) a response to a unique crisis; and 3) has in any case been dead for over 40 years.

The word "progressive" refers to the commitment of a political party to defend the interests of the working class (aka the overwhelming majority of the population) against the depredations of the ruling elite. Not only is the Democratic Party unable and unwilling to engage in such a fight, it is unwilling even to pronounce the fight's name -- "class warfare." Marx is understandably reviled by capitalists for his annoyingly accurate perception that the capitalist class and the rest of the population have a fundamental conflict of interest. Capital seeks only to maximize its return; return can certainly be enhanced by using the machinery of state to transfer costs and burdens to the weak and vulnerable; thus rule by capital is intrinsically inimical to the basic interests of the majority of the population. There is no escaping this reality.

American public discourse attempts to paper over this vexing truth with fatuous happy talk, such as, "By working together, we can make make things better for everyone!" This is a lie. When capital controls government, government is no more than a tool used by elites to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. This kind of arrangement cannot possibly "make all boats rise" over the long term. Only the yachts will rise. If there is no political mechanism for opposing plutocratic rule, the strong will continue to squeeze additional wealth out of the weak until a) the weak become desperate and rebel, b) the weak are crushed and become permanently enslaved, or c) the strong begin suffering more from guilty consciences, than reaping enjoyment from additional wealth -- and therefore relent. (Very few instances of this last are known in recorded history.)

For the Democratic Party to even begin to serve as a vehicle for opposing the absolute rule of capital, it would at a minimum have to be capable of acknowledging the conflict that exists between the interests of capital and the rest of the population; and of expressing a principled determination to take the side of the population in this conflict.

A party whose controlling elements are millionaires, lobbyists, fund-raisers, careerist apparatchiks, consultants, and corporate lawyers; that has stood by prostrate and helpless (when not actively collaborating) in the face of stolen elections, illegal wars, torture, CIA concentration camps, lies as state policy, and one assault on the Bill of Rights after the next, is not likely to take that position.