The Stench of Slavery Lingers in the Contemporary GOP
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How is it that despite the fact that most Americans are peace-loving, hard-working, generous, tolerant people who believe in the ideals expressed in the Constitution, we have become a nation of almost constant warfare whose Congress is currently dominated by right-wing zealots, a nation that oppresses its minorities, devalues its women and LGTB communities, declares war on science, spies on its own citizens, fails to prosecute war criminals and bank fraud, destroys its environment by practicing ruthless agriculture and exploitative energy extraction, and gives enormous wealth to a handful of people while its middle class sinks beneath a tidal wave of debt and income inequality?
The answer, I think, is that our country’s original sin of slavery still corrupts us. Slavery in the antebellum South was anything but an expression of the American ideals of fair play, equality, and justice for all. It was a brutal system of repression where a handful of people had all the money and respect, while slaves did all the work and were treated like chattel.
Although the South lost the Civil War, it’s now come to pass that the ethos of the Old South has enjoyed a recrudescence and infected our society anew. The examples are everywhere. In Wisconsin, original home of American socialism, Republican Governor Scott Walker has effectively eliminated collective bargaining. Anti-science ignorance blooms within the so-called Christian community, where children are taught that the world was created 6,000 years ago and humans and dinosaurs lived together. Like ISIS in the Middle East, whose goal is to establish a caliphate across the Muslim world and pluralism is disallowed, fundamental Christian evangelicals believe that America is a Christian nation, despite the insistence of the Founding Fathers that it not only isn’t a sectarian nation, but church and state should remain forever separate. Our police forces have morphed into paramilitary and gun down unarmed minority children. There’s a war on women’s reproductive rights that’s essentially a re-establishment of male dominance over females. Ignorance reigns in the Republican legislator in Idaho would wondered at a hearing whether a woman could swallow a camera to facilitate a gynecological exam; in the Republican legislator who wanted to jail women who wear yoga pants; in the intolerance of those who would uproot families and deport them instead of offering them a way to citizenship. I could go on.
And how is all this attributable to slavery? I will now quote extensively from “How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America,” written by Sara Robinson on AlterNet about three years ago. It is as trenchant a piece of political and historical analysis into our current predicament as can be imagined. Here it is:
“It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.
“Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.
“Much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side is winning.
“For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this. Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. The core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.
“Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain ‘order,’ and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.
“The elites of the Deep South are descended mainly from the owners of sugar, rum and cotton plantations from Barbados — the younger sons of the British nobility who’d farmed up the Caribbean islands, and then came ashore to the southern coasts seeking more land. The culture they created in the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC, around to New Orleans was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity. From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.
“These elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press. They have historically been profoundly anti-technology as well, far preferring solutions that involve finding more serfs and throwing them at a problem whenever possible. Why buy a bulldozer when 150 convicts on a chain gang can grade your road instead? Unlike the Puritan elites, who wore their wealth modestly and dedicated themselves to the common good, Southern elites sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and the pursuit of pleasure — including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.
“But perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Individuals were expected to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. In return, the community had an inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.
“In the old South, on the other hand, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that’s what liberty is. If you don’t have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity — or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself — then you can’t really call yourself a free man.
“When a Southern conservative talks about ‘losing his liberty,’ the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.
“Once we understand the two different definitions of ‘liberty’ at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights. The fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all — the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they’ve defended these ‘liberties’ across the length of their history.
“The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means. After the Civil War, the rise of Northern industrialists and the dominance of Northern universities and media ensured that subsequent generations of the American power elite continued to subscribe to the Northern worldview — even when the individual leaders came from other parts of the country.
“Ironically, it was that old Yankee commitment to national betterment that ultimately gave the Southern aristocracy its big chance to break out and go national. It was easy for the Northeast to hold onto cultural, political and economic power as long as all the country’s major banks, businesses, universities, and industries were headquartered there. But the New Deal — and, especially, the post-war interstate highways, dams, power grids, and other infrastructure investments that gave rise to the Sun Belt — fatally loosened the Yankees’ stranglehold on national power. The gleaming new cities of the South and West shifted the American population centers, unleashing new political and economic forces with real power to challenge the Yankee consensus. And because a vast number of westward migrants came out of the South, the elites that rose along with these cities tended to hew to the old Southern code, and either tacitly or openly resist the moral imperatives of the Yankee canon. The soaring postwar fortunes of cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta fed that ancient Barbadian slaveholder model of power with plenty of room and resources to launch a fresh and unexpected 20th-century revival.
“These post-WWII Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.
“They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.
“From its origins in the fever swamps of the lowland south, the worldview of the old Southern aristocracy can now be found nationwide. Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige.
“It’s not an overstatement to say that we’re now living in Plantation America.
“To the horror of his Yankee father, George W. Bush proceeded to run the country exactly like a Barbadian slavelord. And Barack Obama has done almost nothing to roll this victory back. We’re now living in an America where rampant inequality is accepted, and even celebrated.
“Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.
The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy — without ever being held to account.
The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude.
“The military — always a Southern-dominated institution — sucks down 60 percent of our federal discretionary spending, and is undergoing a rapid evangelical takeover as well.
“Our police are being given paramilitary training and powers that are completely out of line with their duty to serve and protect, but much more in keeping with a mission to subdue and suppress. Even liberal cities like Seattle are now home to the kind of local justice that used to be the hallmark of small-town Alabama sheriffs.
“Segregation is increasing everywhere. The rights of women and people of color are under assault. Violence against leaders who agitate for progressive change is up. Racist organizations are undergoing a renaissance nationwide.
“We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.
“Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.
“The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.
“As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure.
“Welcome to Plantation America.”
I agree with Sara Robinson’s analysis, but remember we’re talking about elites and those Christian evangelical conservatives and Tea Party zealots who are married to the plantation worldview, not every person in the Sun Belt. I see much hope in the establishment of organic farms and gardens across this region. It’s hard to turn from protecting biodiversity and cherishing life on your organic farm or in your garden and then start de-valuing the lives of minorities, throwing up roadblocks to voting, and stripping women of their reproductive rights.
KRUGMAN ON CONQUERING INCOME INEQUALITY
Sara Robinson’s Plantation America piece does help illuminate current events. See how it throws light on what Paul Krugman wrote about income inequality in The New York Times on February 23, 2015: “As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.
“Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.”
Right—if the old Yankee values mean anything to you. But fat chance the right wing ideologues who run Congress will pass the laws that Krugman suggests.
CONSERVATIVE SCIENCE IS NOT REALLY SCIENCE AT ALL
For years, Republican politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.
One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.
But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.
Now, The New York Times reports, Democratic lawmakers in Washington are demanding information about funding for other scientists who publicly dispute widely held views on the causes and risks of climate change.
Prominent members of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate have sent letters to universities, companies and trade groups asking for information about funding to the scientists.
In letters sent to seven universities, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who is the ranking member of the House committee on natural resources, sent detailed requests focused on funding sources to the academic employers of scientists who had testified before Congress about climate change.
In the letters, Representative Grijalva wrote, “My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships.” He asked for each university’s policies on financial disclosure and the amount and sources of outside funding for each scholar, “communications regarding the funding” and “all drafts” of testimony.
Three Democratic members of the Senate sent 100 letters to fossil fuel companies, trade groups and other organizations asking about their funding of climate research and advocacy. The letters were signed by Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. The senators asked for responses by April 3.
“Corporate special interests shouldn’t be able to secretly peddle the best junk science money can buy,” Senator Markey said, denouncing what he called “denial-for-hire operations.”
Buying junk science to support corporate chicanery is not confined to the issue of climate change. This is exactly how Big Ag, Big Chem, Big Biotech “prove” that conventional agriculture is harmless. Funding for those scientists who produce studies supporting the safety of pesticides and herbicides should also be examined. If the research is legitimate, and the findings are accurate—even if they support the safety of these chemicals—then all right. Nobody’s suggesting witch hunts. But if the funding comes from the companies like Monsanto that benefit from the sale of these chemicals, then there is obviously a conflict of interest. Academic freedom does not mean the right to game the pursuit of scientific truth in order to obtain funding for your research.
THE NETHERLANDS BANS SALE OF ROUNDUP
It’s official, the Netherlands beat Monsanto in a long-debated motion to ban the sale of glyphosate-based herbicides. The Dutch Parliament passed the law prohibiting private parties from buying Monsanto’s toxic herbicide, Roundup, and is expected to go into effect in late 2015. While the Dutch Lower House had initiated the law to ban glyphosate from non-agricultural use years ago, it seems Monsanto’s grip on the government was firm until just recently, when the evidence of the harm that Roundup causes became overwhelming.
HOUSE BILL PREVENTS EPA FROM GETTING EXPERT ADVICE
The GOP-dominated House has passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice — directly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say. Perversely, all this is being done in the name of “transparency.”
H.R. 1422, also known as the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, passed 229-191. It was sponsored by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT). The bill changes the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific advice to the EPA Administrator. Among many other things, it states: “Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work.” This means that a scientist who had published a peer-reviewed paper on a particular topic would not be able to advise the EPA on the findings contained within that paper. That is, the very scientists who know the subject matter best would not be able to discuss it.
In response, the White House has issued a statement indicating it would veto the bill if it passed, noting: “H.R. 1422 would negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.” Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) was blunter, telling House Republicans on Tuesday: “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.”
Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Andrew A. Rosenberg wrote a letter to House Representatives stating: “This [bill] effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.”
Two more bills relating to the EPA are set to go for a vote, bills that opponents argue are part of an unrelenting partisan attack on the EPA and that demonstrate more support for industrial polluters than the public health concerns of the American people.
PEACEFUL BELLY FARM PLANT SALE VIDEO GOES VIRAL
Oh, them organic hippies! God bless ‘em:
The Propagandizing of America
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on The Propagandizing of America
“The War on Science” screams the 72-point headline on the cover of the March, 2015, issue of National Geographic, accompanied by the following lines defining the war:
Climate change does not exist.
Evolution never happened.
The Moon Landing was fake.
Vaccinations can lead to autism.
Genetically Modified Food is evil.
What?!?! Good old National Geo lumps opposition to GMOs in with climate change deniers and moon landing truthers? If you think GMOs are an environmental threat, you are a foot soldier in the war on science? How is this possible, for a respected magazine to fall prey to agribusiness propaganda?
It’s possible because the editors at National Geo have swallowed the biotech industry’s lies. This propaganda masquerades as journalism, but it isn’t journalism at all. It is a mask behind which is an agenda so incredibly cynical that it truly is evil. And that agenda is the complete corporate control of agriculture—from the patented GMO seeds that farmers are not allowed to save and plant next growing season, to the profits from the sale of agricultural chemicals. The thrust of the propaganda is that not only are GMOs safe and entirely equivalent to regular crops, but that they are key to feeding the world’s burgeoning population in the future.
This propaganda is spread so widely and so often that it swamps fair and objective real journalism. Big Ag in all its forms is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to cover up the truth. The truth can’t get out. Silence reigns while the lies are broadcast through bullhorns. And those bullhorns are the media, including the National Geographic. And of course Fox “News,” but also the Washington Post and The New York Times, among many other outlets.
And now the propaganda comes through the internet and digital social media on smart phones. For example, a couple of days ago, I got an email from The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. It encouraged me to “choose science over hysteria” when it comes to making food choices. Translated, this means stopping my hysterical worrying about GMOs and start chowing down on them instead, because the scientists have everything firmly in hand and they have your health and best interests at heart.
Let me quote from the website of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food:
“American food and beverage companies have led the world in safe, quality food production for generations. Over the last two decades, the food industry has used genetically modified (GM) technology to produce these same products. Today, foods that have been genetically modified make up 70-80% of the foods we eat. Ingredients grown using GM technology are not only safe, but they also have a number of important benefits. GM crops are more plentiful, better for the environment and keep production costs down for farmers, ultimately lowering costs for consumers across the country.
We will continue to advocate for the continued safe and effective use of agricultural biotechnology to increase the food supply while lowering cost. And we will continue to engage in an informative dialogue with policy makers so that they understand the safety, prevalence and benefits of GM technology.”
And who is paying “to engage in an informative dialogue with policy makers” (read lobbying)? Here’s who:
The American Association of Cereal Chemists
Agricultural Retailers Association
American Bakers Association
American Beverage Association
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Feed Industry Association
American Frozen Food Institute
American Fruit and Vegetable Processors and Growers Coalition
American Seed Trade Association
American Soybean Association
American Sugarbeet Growers Association
Biotechnology Industry Organization
Corn Refiners Association
Council for Responsible Nutrition
Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association
Global Cold Chain Alliance
Grocery Manufacturers Association
Independent Bakers Association
International Dairy Foods Association
International Franchise Association
National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance
National Association of Manufacturers
National Association of Wheat Growers
National Confectioners Association
National Corn Growers Association
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
National Grain & Feed Association
National Fisheries Institute
National Milk Producers Federation
National Oilseed Processors Association
National Potato Council
National Restaurant Association
National Turkey Federation
North American Millers Association
Pet Food Institute
Snack Food Association
U.S. Beet Sugar Association
U.S. Canola Association
Do you see any scientific organizations in this list? I see agribusiness trade associations, lobbying groups, and propaganda machines. Let’s look more closely at one organization that just might have a foot in science. Let’s examine the Council for Responsible Nutrition, number 16 on this list.
According to Sourcewatch, a non-profit that exposes the powers behind propaganda outlets, “the Council for Responsible Nutrition is a Washington-based trade association/lobby group. In 2009, it spent $470,000 on lobbying. Its members include ingredient suppliers and manufacturers in the dietary supplement industry, and other entities such as Archer Daniels Midlands Company, Bayer Corporation, Cargill Health & Food Technologies, Cadbury Schweppes, Novartis and Covance Laboratories, Inc., a toxicity testing lab that is controversial for performing tests on animals. CRN advocates self-regulation of the supplement industry.”
Of course, the propagandist-in-chief is Monsanto, which has been flooding TV, the internet, and digital media with click-throughs asking folks to “join the conversation.”
If you click through, a friendly-looking website comes up with pictures of ordinary folks asking Monsanto tough questions about the safety of GMOs and agricultural chemicals like Roundup herbicide. In other words, Monsanto is recognizing that people are becoming aware of the problems with GMOs and Big Ag. So here’s an example of “The Conversation,” taken from Monsanto’s online site:
Karen O. asks, “Is it safe to feed my kids GMOs?”
Monsanto’s answer is “Absolutely Karen! Many of us here at Monsanto are parents – we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and studying GMOs, and we feel confident feeding them to our kids. A big part of that confidence comes from knowing about all the independent experts who’ve looked at GMOs and concluded that they’re as safe as other foods. That includes groups like the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, as well as government agencies like the FDA.”
Well, isn’t that special. Monsanto lets the public express their fears so that it can feed them deliberate lies about the safety of GMOs. It’s called propaganda. But is it fair to call Monsanto’s response to Karen O. “deliberate lies?”
Well, Monsanto’s reply to Karen included this: “…all the independent experts who’ve looked at GMOs and concluded that they’re as safe as other foods.”
So let’s look at an article recently sent out by the Center for Food Safety. But first, we need to check on the Center for Food Safety. I mean, who can you trust these days? Here’s what Sourcewatch says about this organization: “The Center for Food Safety, founded in 1997 by the International Center for Technology Assessment, describes itself as a U.S. non-profit organization ‘that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic foods and other forms of sustainable agriculture. Among the issues the organization works on are: genetically modified foods, organic food standards, aquaculture, animal cloning, food irradiation, synthetic hormones (such as rBGH), and mad cow disease.’ The organization received a four-star (‘exceptional’) rating from the charitable oversight organization Charity Navigator.” If any group is legit, it’s the Center for Food Safety.
Here’s the article, the gist of which directly refutes Monsanto’s claim about all the experts who’ve concluded that GMOs are as safe as any other food:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the heels of USDA deregulation of the Arctic® apple — the first genetically engineered apple — leading consumer, food safety and environmental groups issued a response to widespread media reports wrongly characterizing the science on GMOs as settled.
The groups, including Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth and Pesticide Action Network, pointed to a January 24 report in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe — signed by 300 scientists, physicians and scholars — that asserts there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.
The claim of scientific consensus on GMOs frequently repeated in the media is “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated,” the peer-reviewed statement said.
“Preeminent science bodies like the National Research Council have recognized that some engineered foods could pose considerable risk. It is widely recognized by scientists that those risks depend on the particular engineered gene and crop. It is unfortunate that self-appointed advocates for the technology have selectively cited the literature and organizations to suggest that GE crops, generally, present no risks that warrant concern,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, senior scientist and director of sustainable agriculture at the Center for Food Safety.
“Not one independent, public safety study has been carried out on the Arctic® apple, and yet some media stories have reported it is ‘safe,’” said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union. “We call on the press to accurately report on the science of GMOs, particularly the health and environmental concerns raised by scientists and the lack of required safety studies that leave questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods.”
The journal statement cites a concerted effort by GMO seed developers and some scientists, commentators and journalists to construct the claim that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety, and that debate on the topic is “over.”
That claim “…is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue,” according to the statement.
The statement raises the following points in objection to the consensus of safety claim:
There is no consensus in the science. A comprehensive review of peer-reviewed animal feeding studies of GMOs found roughly an equal number of research groups raising concerns about genetically engineered foods and those suggesting GMOs were as safe and nutritious as conventional foods. The review also found that most studies finding GMO foods the same as conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies or their associates.
There are no epidemiological studies investigating potential health effects of GMO food on human health. With no epidemiological studies, claims that “trillions of GMO meals” have been eaten with no ill effects have no scientific basis. Epidemiology is the study of human populations to determine whether something is harmful or beneficial, and is the scientifically accepted means of determining impact on human health. Without such studies, which have been used to determine the effects of factors from fats to smoking, it is not possible to know whether GMOs are causing harm such as increases in known diseases, especially over the long term.
GMO studies are frequently mischaracterized as showing safety. For example, the EU Research Project, which has been internationally cited as providing evidence of GMO safety, was not designed to test safety and provides no reliable evidence of safety. Another example is the false claim that “hundreds of studies” listed on the biotechnology website Biofortified demonstrate GMO safety; in fact, many of the studies on that list do not address safety concerns at all, and several of the studies raise serious concerns.
International agreements show widespread recognition of risks posed by GMO foods and crops. The Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety and UN’s Codex Alimentarius share a precautionary approach to GMO crops and foods, in that they agree that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GMOs are used in food or released into the environment.
Claims that government and scientific organizations endorse safety are exaggerated or inaccurate. Reports by the Royal Society of Canada and British Medical Association have noted that some GMOs could be of considerable harm. The positions of some prominent scientific organizations have been misrepresented or opposed by members, further highlighting the lack of consensus among scientists.
There is no consensus on environmental impacts of GMOs, and many concerns have been raised about increased herbicide use, potential health impacts and the rapid spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.
The joint statement concludes, “…the totality of scientific research outcomes in the field of GM crop safety is nuanced; complex; often contradictory or inconclusive; confounded by researchers’ choices, assumptions, and funding sources; and, in general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered.”
Decisions on whether to continue and expand GMO crops should “…be supported by strong scientific evidence…obtained in a manner that is honest, ethical, rigorous, independent, transparent, and sufficiently diversified to compensate for bias,” rather than based on “misleading and misrepresentative claims by an internal circle of likeminded stakeholders that a ‘scientific consensus’ exists on GMO safety.”
So, yes. Deliberate lies. That’s what propagandists do—tell lies for a living. Note that in this article, it’s stated that “most studies finding GMO foods the same as conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies or their associates.”
Monsanto is luring the public into its propaganda machine by inviting people to “join the conversation.” The information given by Monsanto to the public when they enter “The Conversation” is a set-up, a sucker punch, quoting bogus science performed by their own bought-and-paid-for “scientists” and salting this disinformation with outright lies.
The propaganda is being disseminated and repeated by the media. But National Geo has one thing right. There is a war on science going on. It’s being waged against real, rigorous science not just by tinfoil hat evolution deniers, but also by once respected sources like National Geographic.
OUTRAGE OVER USDA GMO APPLE APPROVAL
Documents released by the Agriculture Department suggest a secret decision to approve a genetically modified apple (the Arctic®) was essentially made almost a year ago. The genetic modification disables an enzyme that causes apple browning.
The Okanagan company that developed the apple said it thought political factors had kept the approval from being announced until just recently. The announcement caused a firestorm of outrage among food safety and environmental groups.
The Okanagan company, which had initially requested approval in 2010, finally became so frustrated that it wrote a pointed letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last month. A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said it took time to analyze the issues and all the comments received. There were two public comment periods that together drew more than 175,000 comments, the overwhelming majority opposed to approval.
Consumer and environmental groups, who say that genetically modified crops in general are not thoroughly tested for safety, were highly critical of the decision.
“This G.M.O. apple is simply unnecessary,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said. “Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations.”
An Okanagan spokesperson said the apples would be labeled as Arctic, not as GMO, but with links to the company’s website so consumers could figure out that the fruit was GMO. (Yeah—fat chance.) He added that labeling the fruit as genetically modified would only be “demonizing” it.
DOES OLIVE OIL DEFEND AGAINST ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Dr. Gary Beauchamp is speaking these days about his discovery of the oleocanthal molecule that he found in olive oil about 10 years ago, according to our friends at Apollo Olive Oil.
The discovery, like many great discoveries, was an accident. As a sensory chemist he was searching for a way to improve the taste of ibuprofen when he experienced an olive oil tasting. To his surprise he tasted something in the olive oil that had similarities to the taste of ibuprofen. Further research revealed he had discovered the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory molecule, oleocanthal.
This molecule in olive oil does not have the side effects of ibuprofen. Beauchamp also found that oleocanthal can help remove proteins that are the main component of amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer patients.
CELLS: They Are Who We Are
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All life is cells.
Some cells, like microbes, are singles, living unattached to others. They may act in consort—like billions of yeast cells in grape juice, all doing the same task of turning the sugar to alcohol, but they are still single cells.
Even viruses—if they are alive at all–require cells to live. Without cells to invade and conquer, viruses would not exist.
The cells of multi-cellular organisms, plant and animal, cooperate to make complex life forms. In so doing, they take on unique roles. All these cells start out as stem cells that can develop into the structures of the organism’s tissues. One cell becomes the squamous cell in the lining of the mouth, another becomes an eyelid, and so on. They are instructed as to their destinies by hormones produced by the endocrine system, one of the body’s most important systems. Once they become the cells they are destined to be, they play a role in the organization and functioning of the body that produced them.
Thus any multi-cellular organism can be thought of as an ecosystem of cells, each type of cell different, with a specific job to do, requiring cooperation to create the living organism. Any natural ecosystem, comprised of the plants and animals designed by nature, reaches full health and sustainability in its climax state. This means all the players are present and functioning, from top of the line predators down to the tiniest bacterium.
It’s the same with the “ecosystem” of the conglomeration of cells in an organism. When each cell that the organism’s DNA is programmed to produce is present and functioning, health is the result. When certain cells are either missing or malfunctioning, however, illness is the result.
We know that agricultural chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides have deleterious effects on cells in all sorts of organisms, not only on the cells themselves, but on the body’s systems that direct their creation and functioning. Chemicals like glyphosate, found in Roundup herbicide, deactivate enzymes that allow for the production of critical proteins. Glyphosate is also an endocrine disruptor, scrambling the message that the hormones are trying to get to the stem cells. We see the results in humans and in the ecosystems of our environment: ill health, destruction, and death.
Now think about what the biotech industry is doing by splicing foreign DNA into the foods we eat, creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These creations are something novel in the ecosystem. Their cells have never existed before. Their functions are uncharted and unpredictable. Their effects on the world’s organisms and ecosystems are almost completely unknown. The GMOs are not sanctioned by nature and disregard nature’s systems for establishing health.
This is why organic agriculture and horticulture is so important. They, along with Biodynamic farming, stand against mankind’s hubris in creating heretofore unknown organisms and flooding our environment with untested and known toxins. They are the only sustainable forms of agriculture.
The organic method considers the health of all life on earth, from microbe to mankind. No disruptive chemicals. No deactivated systems. Proper nutrition. Health from cells to whole creatures. That’s why it’s so important to not only eat organic, but also to support organic farmers and the unbiased scientific research that helps us toward a fuller understanding of nature’s ways.
MARK BITTMAN ASKS AND ANSWERS THE RIGHT QUESTION
Writing in The New York Times for February 11, 2015, food writer and columnist Mark Bittman wrote, “Is contemporary American agriculture a system for nourishing people and providing a livelihood for farmers? Or is it one for denuding the nation’s topsoil while poisoning land, water, workers and consumers and enriching corporations? Our collective actions would indicate that our principles favor the latter; that has to change.”
His point is that our food goals are all about protecting corporations rather than protecting the health of the environment and all the creatures in it. He’s exactly right, of course, and I’m sure he’s aware that organic farmers and gardeners, and the people who support them by buying and eating their produce, have been doing just that for decades.
As if to underscore Bittman’s point, here’s a quote by Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, made about 15 years ago: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food, our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.”
CONSUMERS UNION BACKS GMO RIGHT-TO-KNOW ACT
Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has announced its support for the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, a bill in Congress that would create a federal standard for the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon.
Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, said, “We applaud Senators Boxer and Blumenthal and Representative DeFazio for introducing the GE Food Right-to-Know Act today. Genetically engineered crops, created by altering crop DNA in the laboratory, are different than traditional crops, and consumers have a right to know if they are eating them. Just like food that is frozen, from concentrate, homogenized or irradiated, genetically engineered food should be required to be labeled.”
Consumers Union said the bill would help consumers make informed decisions about the food they buy and feed their families. It would also help prevent consumer confusion by prohibiting the term “natural” to be used on food packaging containing GE ingredients, because its use is misleading.
A national survey by Consumer Reports in 2014 found 92 percent of respondents wanted labeling of genetically engineered food.
A report commissioned by Consumer Union found the cost of labeling genetically engineered food would be negligible– the median cost in this analysis is $2.30 per person per year, or less than a penny a day.
A 12-POINT AGENDA FOR DRIVING GMOS OUT OF THE MARKET
Ronnie Cummins, the international director of the Organic Consumers Association, offers this agenda for getting rid of GMOs:
1. Stop Congress from passing the Pompeo bill (HR #4432) in 2015, which would take away states’ rights to pass mandatory GMO food labeling bills, and make it legal for unscrupulous food and beverage companies to continue mislabeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural.”
2. Stop Congress from “fast-tracking” and passing secretly negotiated “Free Trade” agreements (the TPP-Trans-Pacific Partnership, and TTIP-Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) that would weaken consumer and states’ rights to label and safety test GMO and factory-farmed foods.
3. Pass more state laws requiring mandatory labels on GMOs.
4. Pass more bans on GMOs, neonicotinoids and pesticides at the township, city, and county levels.
5. Support Vermont, Maui (Hawaii), Jackson and Josephine counties (Oregon) in their federal and state legal battles to uphold their laws requiring labels and/or bans on GMOs.
6. Educate the public on the dangers and cruelty of GMO-fed, factory-farmed meat, dairy and egg products, and organize a “Great Boycott” of all factory-farmed foods.
7. Support mandatory state legislation to label dairy products and chain restaurant food coming from factory farms or CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).
8. Pressure retail natural food stores and coops to follow the lead of Whole Foods Market and the Natural Grocer to label and/or ban all GMO-derived foods, including meat and animal products and deli foods, from their stores.
9. Pressure restaurants to follow the lead of organic/grass fed restaurants and ban, or at least label, all GMO ingredients.
10. Support consumer efforts to test for Roundup/glyphosate contamination in drinking water, human urine, breast milk, and in non-GMO food products such as wheat, potatoes, oats, peas, lentils and dry beans that are currently sprayed with Roundup before harvest.
11. Educate the public on the positive health, environmental, ethical and climate-friendly (greenhouse gas sequestering) attributes of organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised food and farming.
12. Boycott the “Traitor Brand” products of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and the Snack Food Association.
MIDDLE EASTERN COOKING OF ORGANIC INGREDIENTS: HEALTHY FOOD
In 1968, I went to work in New York City for a man of Lebanese descent who lived with his wife Ginny and two sons across the Hudson in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. After working there for a few weeks, he invited me to his house for dinner. I had never eaten Lebanese food, and was delighted to discover that I loved it.
Over the next two years, Ginny introduced me to hummus and tabouleh, kibbeh, meghli, and many other dishes. After finishing with my job in New York, I moved on to work at Organic Gardening magazine, and discovered that the healthful foods we were describing in the magazine were the very ingredients Ginny had made into her distinctive Lebanese cuisine: olive oil, fresh vegetables of all kinds, fruits, citrus, rice, bulgur, fish, lamb, beef.
I’ve just run across a wonderful Lebanese cookbook—Taste of Beirut: Over 175 Delicious Lebanese Recipes from Classics to Contemporary to Mezze and More—everything I knew from Ginny and plenty more besides. It’s written by Joumana Accad, a woman born in Lebanon and now living in Texas, and published by HCI Books. I highly recommend it.
Why Do GMO Labeling Measures Keep Losing?
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According to The New York Times, “In poll after poll, consumers have overwhelmingly said they want labels on foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Most recently, 66 percent of respondents to an Associated Press-GfK poll last month said they wanted foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. Only 7 percent did not want such labeling.”
So how is it that when labeling laws are put on state ballots, they are narrowly defeated, as they were in California, Washington, and Oregon, even when pre-balloting polls showed that a big majority of the citizenry of those states want labeling? Are these polls representative of the voting public, or are they self-selected for anti-GMO people? Is someone cheating? If nine out of 10 people really want GMO labeling, as the Associated Press-GfK poll suggests, how come the ballot initiatives keep losing?
Chris Mooney, writing in the Washington Post, found these answers for a story published last October:
“Americans don’t actually know a lot about genetically modified foods, and so polls suggesting they support their labeling should be taken with a major grain of salt,” Mooney wrote. He quotes a 2013 survey conducted by researchers at Rutgers University that found that 54 percent of Americans say they know ‘very little or nothing at all’ about genetically modified foods, and 25 percent have never even heard of them. Only 26 percent of Americans, meanwhile, were actually aware that GMO labeling is not currently required.
“’It’s really clear that people don’t know very much about the subject,’ says Rutgers’ William Hallman, lead researcher on the poll. ‘And when people don’t know much about a subject, how you ask them a question about it largely determines the answer you get back.’
“Indeed, Hallman’s survey also found that when you ask people in the abstract, ‘What information would you like to see on food labels that is not already there?’, most say they don’t want any more information on the label — and only seven percent voluntarily come up with GMOs as an answer. So while over 90 percent of Americans may say GMO labeling is a good thing when you actually ask them directly about it, the vast majority of people are not going around thinking that idea independently of being prompted.
“So then what happens when on GMO ballot initiative is actually up for a decision in a given state? First of all, explains John Gastil, a professor at Penn State who studies ballot initiatives, these initiatives generally do worse than initial polls suggest they’ll do. ‘The reason is that fortunately, we have an instinct which tells us, if we don’t understand something, perhaps we should vote against it,’ says Gastil.
“And what happens when voters actually get to know the GMO labeling issue, inside out? We actually have intriguing evidence on that.
“Oregon has actually created a process in which a random sample of 20 citizens hear from both sides of an initiative (and outside experts), and then come up with a report laying out the pro and con case that is then included in the state’s voter guide. Such a review was conducted for Measure 92. Pro arguments included ‘more control and transparency over our food purchasing decisions’ and that the initiative ‘could benefit Oregon family farmers that grow traditional crops by increasing public demand for crops that are not genetically engineered.’ Con arguments, meanwhile, included the assertion that ‘Existing food labels already give consumers a more reliable way to choose foods without GE ingredients if that is what they prefer, including organic and non-GMO labels. Measure 92 conflicts with these national labeling standards.’ In this case, the panel’s ultimate assessment of Measure 92 split very evenly, with nine panelists in favor of it and 11 against.
“’Even after several days of study, you had voters kind of torn in these matters,’ observes Gastil. Which is still more evidence that general polls don’t reflect how people really think about the issue of genetically modified food labeling — when they actually think about it.”
Mooney’s research should be an indication to anti-GMO balloteers on how to educate voters so they understand that the problem goes well beyond GMOs to include the biotech, agricultural chemical, and food processing industries. In a nutshell, GMOs exist to sell herbicides and pesticides that are destroying our health and the health of our environment.
This is apparent to David Schubert is professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. CNN recently reported his thoughts on the EPA’s performance in protecting Americans’ health.
“One would expect that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the best interests of the public in mind, but its recent decisions have cast serious doubt upon this assumption,” Schubert wrote.
“One decision in particular could have a dramatic impact on the safety of the U.S. food supply: It is the mandate of the EPA to regulate the use of agricultural chemicals like insecticides and herbicides, as well as to determine their allowable limits in food and drinking water.
“To accommodate the fact that weeds are becoming glyphosate resistant, thereby requiring more herbicide use, the EPA has steadily increased its allowable concentration limit in food, and has essentially ignored our exposure to the other chemicals that are in its commercial formulation. As a result, the amount of glyphosate-based herbicide introduced into our foods has increased enormously since the introduction of GM crops in the mid-1990s. Multiple studies have shown that glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and likely public health hazards.
“Of equal importance in terms of health is the fact that herbicides are now being used to rapidly kill non-GM grain crops at the end of their growing season in order to speed up harvesting. So, a product can be labeled GM-free but still contain high levels of herbicide.”
I repeat—GMOs are a symptom of the real problem, and that is the real but unstated goal of genetic engineering and biotech in general is to sell more toxic agricultural chemicals.
USDA SECRETLY APPROVES GM LOBLOLLY PINE
Outrage is growing over secret USDA approval of genetically engineered loblolly pine trees. The USDA has made an unprecedented decision to allow ArborGen unregulated commercial cultivation of these transgenic trees. Loblolly pines are native across 14 states throughout the US Southeast, and are grown in plantations around the world. Their pollen is known to travel for hundreds of miles. Something else to know about loblolly pines: their DNA contains more nucleotides—22 billion–than any other form of life on earth. A human being’s DNA, by contrast, contains just three billion. What’s the implication? USDA isn’t telling.
USDA AIDS SALES OF TOXIC HERBICIDES
The Institute for Responsible Technology reports that USDA has given final approval for the commercial release of two new herbicide tolerant varieties of soybeans and cotton from Monsanto.
Non-regulated status was granted for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, the industry’s first biotech-stacked trait with both dicamba and glyphosate herbicide tolerance, and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton which will allow farmers to apply multiple combinations of three herbicides: dicamba, glyphosate, and glufosinate. Dicamba is noted for a tendency to drift.
Food & Water Watch Executive Director, Wenonah Hauter, calls this “simply the latest example of USDA’s allegiance to the biotechnology industry and dependence upon chemical solutions.”
Biotech seed and agrochemical companies like Monsanto and Dow, who received approval for its new Enlist Duo 2,4-D+glyphosate resistant corn and soy last fall, have developed these new generations of GMO seeds and their companion herbicides to “combat” the spread of the glyphosate-resistant Superweeds that are now estimated to infest over 70 million acres of American farm land.
That’s not the reason they developed these new herbicide resistant seeds. I repeat: the real goal is to sell more toxic herbicide, and the USDA is aiding them hand in glove.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT ORGANIC FOOD
From Maria Rodale and her staff comes these headlines about the benefits of organic food:
1. “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops.”
British Journal of Nutrition, 2014. Link to text: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4141693/
2. “Eating Mostly Organic Eliminates Most Pesticide Exposure.”
Environmental Research, 2014
Link to abstract: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001393511400067X
3. “Fruit Flies Eating Organic Diets Are More Fertile, Live Longer.”
PLoS ONE, 2013
Link to full text: plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0052988
A GOVERNMENT THAT GETS IT—WHAT A CONCEPT
The Danish government has announced a plan to double its organic farmland by 2020 and to increase demand for organic food. Read the full article at http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/Denmark-launches-most-ambitious-organic-plan