Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pete McCloskey on Development

Pete McCloskey lost the Republican Primary to Richard Pombo. Then, he turned around and endorsed the Democratic candidate, Jerry McNerney. At least, this has created a national buzz in the blogosphere. The Huffington Post is one place, but not the only one. Frequent contributor, Dave Johnson has a long letter from McCloskey. This is a good letter, but the nation-wide public reaction is even more interesting. The usual Red State Trolls did not post. McCloskey was almost universally praised.

You can read a lot about the even in these comments, of which I quote one, posted by nom de blog "davefoc"
copy of the email I sent to local Orange, County, CA Republican party:

I have voted Republican almost exclusively all my life. I have entered semi-retirement and had even considered doing some volunteer work for the Republican party.

The Republican Party no longer is an entity that I intend to support in anyway on the national level. It is my intention to vote for Democrats until at least they have obtained control of the house and the senate.

I was never a social conservative and just accepted that part of the Republican Party because I believed in the basic ideas of limited government that the Republican Party seemed to stand for. Now that the Republican Party has abandoned economic conservatism for a system of legislation by legalized kickbacks from various interest groups it is beyond me why any American should continue to support the criminal organization that the GOP has become.

I offer you this article as just a tiny example of what I am talking about:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/17/AR2...

Do Republican legislators even fantasize any more that they are serving their country? Or has the entire party been taken over by cynical politicians that only glory in service to their own self-interest?

By: davefoc on July 28, 2006 at 07:30pm


In today's Lodi New-Sentinal, McCloske wrote an OpEd that tell us all a lot about the district. Lodi is relevant for a couple of reasons. First, it is the location of a well publicized Islamic Militant trial. Second, this is the town where McCloskey moved so that he could run against Pombo. His normal residence had been in Yolo County. As McCloskey recaps the events of the primary, he tells the real story of the San Joaquin Valley and the hold that developers have on the political structure.

His conclusion is pessimistic. "Citizen apathy remains our greatest failure in our own privileged government of the people, for the people, and by the people." It is really very much worth everyone's reading this piece. Having been involved in many discussions during this race, I have the same concern as Pete. I have seen the same things that he sees. I also see that the urban, coastal population is viewed as the enemy, as a group of people who just don't get it, as people that you should not trust, but it is ok to sell them a house.

I started the blog partly because I was convinced that the future meaningful conflicts in California will be played out in the Central Valley. I am more convinced of that than ever.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A hot time in California

Just some thoughts that came to me over the past week while the heat came near to frying my brain. Since last Saturday 114, 113, 111, 109. Now, if I were from Fresno, I might find that normal, but we aren't used to it here. That was a disclaimer in case the rest of this does not make sense.

Whil Global Warming is a major new event (or was until the Isreal - Lebanon thing started) I don't see that it makes much difference to the Green Party candidates. Even Jay Leno was quipping "Ok, Al, your win. Just make it stop."

Some activists are discussing the pros and cons of a carbon tax, or even carbon rationing. Sorry, the latter was not an activist, it was a UK government official.

While there are practical, every day things that can be done, it is apparent that no one thinks this is an issue on which anyone can get elected. They may be right. Even Peter Camejo's issues reponse is a two year old statement on Solar Power based on the previous gubernatorial debates. Still, one would think that the Green Party of California would find a state issue, such as preparedness of our infrastructure for global warming.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The party of the people.

When Hank Chapot copied Sam Smith's Rafting Down America's Real Mainstream to an email list today, I had to admit that I did not know Sam Smith from Samuel Adams. However, after reading it, I have to say that it says a number of things that I feel, but he is much more direct and clear about it.

It is common rhetoric these days to talk of two americas, as does Smith.
There are two Americas: the televised America, known and hated by the world, and the rest of us. The former is a factitious creation whose strange gods include HBO, accentless TV anchor people, Dick Cheney, reruns of Friends, and the National Endowment for Democracy.
Maybe is is leftover rhetoric from a John Edwards speech. Still, everyone can understand that as long as you can see youself in the good one.

It is also common to talk about the fact that many people have given up voting. Smith does it.
"But there's a big America out there without any party that gives a damn about its concerns. Many of these Americans have given up voting."
So does Christine Todd Whitman in an essay written for the Hall Institue of Public Policy.
The great majority of voters is dissatisfied with the direction of the country and is skeptical of either party’s ability to provide positive, ethical, and effective leadership. Faced constantly with ideologically sensitive issues such as, immigration and gay marriage, many voters are losing faith in their government, and even more are simply “tuning out.”


One thing that I am concerned about as a Green is the fact that that there seems to be an effort to position the Greens to the left, progressive side of the Democrats. Note, I did not say liberal, since that has become a life-style rather than a political philosophy. In any case, this is exactly what the Democrats would like to see; a small, vocal party of the far left, so that they can position the Republicans to the far right and have the middle ground all to themselves. Were that to become the reality, then the Greens would no longer serve any useful purpose other than to perpetuate the ties between big corporate America and politics as usual.

Monday, July 17, 2006

GMO's

I have just posted three articles by Erica Martenson that previously appeared in the Napa Sentinel who were gracious enough to give their permission to reproduce them in their entirety. Well, not really their entirety, as I changed the titles a bit.

These are here for a reason. Senate Bill 1056 is under consideration right now in Sacramento and requires a truly G(g)reen response. Yes, I don't care whether you use Green with a capital or a small letter. The response is required and hopefully some of our candidates can take this on.

SB 1056 would bring all root stock and agricultural seeds under state-wide controls. According to Deborah Rich in the SF Chronicle...
Mendocino, Marin and Trinity counties and the cities of Arcata and Point Arena already have bans or moratoriums on genetically engineered crops. If Florez's bill passes as amended, other local governments in California will lose their right to pass similar ordinances unless they do so within the year.


The vote in the Agriculture Committee was 8 - 0. There were no objections.

As Erica Martenson pointed out in her second article, there are risks for farmers, but as a group, the agricultural lobby in California is behind this, or at least the Farm Bureau is.
An initiative that would ban biotechnology in Sonoma County would have a devastating affect on agriculture and potentially shortchange farmers on future advances that could improve their lives and the lives of others, according to American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman.
The general view is that this is not just about farming, but about our future. I could not agree more. We have the right to have a voice in our future and Monsanto and the other big ag corporations want to take that away from us.

While this bill is very specfic about the ability to actually use genetically modified organisms in agriculture, it is just one part of an overall plan by big ag to remove all controls on their operation. Each of these is targeted at some level of government that can best be counted on to fold when corporate money is around.

The key issue on GMO's is really labeling and this is being fought on two fronts. As Martenson pointed out, Dennis Kucinich keeps introducing bill that would require the labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients. This bill never gets out of committee in Congress. However, in case you think that it might be a good idea for the State of California to require the labeling of such foods, they have a plan for that too. In early March, the SF Chronicle reported that "The House voted Wednesday to strip many warnings from food labels, potentially affecting alerts about arsenic in bottled water, lead in candy and allergy-causing sulfites, among others." So much for Federalism.

I am not done with my list becaue there is currently a bill in Congress that would do the same with toxic pesticides used in Agriculture. Again, in a July 13 story in the Chronicle we find that
House Republicans are pushing new legislation that could wipe out the ability of California and other states to ban or strictly limit the use of pesticides and toxic industrial chemicals that can jeopardize human health.

The measure, approved by a House committee Wednesday on a mostly party line vote, is the latest effort by the Republican-led Congress to block states from enacting environmental, public health or consumer protections that are more stringent than federal standards.


It does not take long to see the emerging pattern. So, what does that have to do with GMOs and SB 1056? It is simply that, without proper labeling, consumers will never know what they are buying. Besides the ABC polls quoted by Martenson, Rutgers University has done some polling that indicated that 88% the American Public favors such labeling.

Martenson has done a very good job of defining the dangers of uncontrolled use of ge material in agriculture. The instances of abuse are far too common to need repeating. Simply put, pollen does not know what a fence or property line means and there is no way to control the release of genetic material into the environment.

If this bill passes, the only winners will be Monsanto and the other producers of GMO agriculture. This is a gigantic field trial and we are the test subjects. If there were ever a time when we had a convergence of Green values: sustainability, ecological wisdom, community based economics, decentralizaion, personal and global responsibility.

Wes

Pharm crops and world hunger

Article No. 3
by Erica Martenson, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Articles in the last two issues of the Sentinel described the lack of government regulation of genetically modified (GM) food crops and outlined four bills Congressman Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced into the House of Representatives to require that GM foods be tested for safety and labeled, and to protect farmers from any liability created by this new technology by shifting that liability onto the developer, namely the biotech corporations. The final two bills in Kucinich’s “Genetically Engineered Regulatory Framework” focus on regulating pharmaceutical and industrial crops, and addressing the problem of world hunger.

Would you like to drink beer with human genes? How about cooking with human genes in your safflower oil? Pharmaceutical and industrial crops are plants that have been genetically altered to produce an experimental drug or industrial chemical. For example, Washington State University secretly grew barley injected with human genes to produce artificial proteins that could have medical applications. In addition, SemBioSys, a Canadian company, plans to blast human genes into safflower to produce experimental insulin, and a drug for heart attacks and strokes. While these tests are supposed to be highly regulated, a recent report by the Inspector General of the US Department of Agriculture found that this department did not follow through with field site inspections and sometimes did not even know where the field tests were being conducted.

While proponents say that “biopharming” could produce drugs much more cheaply than current production methods, a recent article titled, “Are There Human Genes in Your Food?” written by Trudy Bialic and published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reports that the contamination of our food crops would be inevitable. The article states, “The National Academy of Science, a nongovernmental body of scientists and professionals, has warned in two reports that it is virtually impossible to keep biopharms (pharmaceutical crops) out of the food supply, if food crops are used to grow them. Insects, birds, animals, wind, storms, trucks, trains, and human error see to that.” In his floor statements before Congress, Kucinich said, “These substances are not intended to be incorporated in food or to be spread into the environment. That would be equivalent to allowing a prescription drug in the food supply.”

Genetic engineering has been used to develop treatments for many medical conditions from diabetes to cancer. However, scientists have developed these medicines in laboratories under secure conditions, and the medicines created do not replicate themselves. For example, currently insulin is produced in bacteria in a lab, and the resulting product cannot reproduce and self-replicate. Biopharming is different. For instance, if safflower grown in open fields is used as a “factory” to produce insulin, not only can it contaminate and get mixed in with safflower that is used to make safflower oil for cooking but once unleashed into the environment, it will reseed itself and can never be recalled. “Growing genetically modified crops in an open-air environment is truly a Pandora’s Box,” stated Shawn Rau, a microbiologist with ECS Group, a local environmental consulting firm. “Once introduced, the gene pool will be changed forever, and the effects are immeasurable.”

Kucinich’s bill, “The Genetically Engineered Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crop Safety Act” (H.R. 5267), aims to protect our food supply from becoming contaminated by pharmaceutical and industrial crops, which would create an environmental problem, pose a health risk to consumers, and result in an economic loss, due to product recalls and lost domestic and foreign markets. This bill would place a permanent ban on the planting of pharmaceutical and industrial crops in open fields, and on using commonly eaten foods to produce pharmaceuticals and chemicals. In addition, it would place a temporary ban on growing them in a contained environment until the US Department of Agriculture “has a tracking system to regulate [their growth], handling, transportation, and disposal” and until the National Academy of Sciences has had an opportunity to explore and report to Congress other options for developing pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, coined the expression, “Food is thy medicine” over two thousand years ago; however, pharm crops were not what he had in mind. Kucinich’s bill would help keep that line drawn between food and drugs.

The last bill in Kucinich’s framework to regulate GM foods is the “Real Solutions to World Hunger Act” (H.R. 5270). Why did Kucinich introduce a bill to address the issue of world hunger as part of a package of bills to regulate GMOs? What do GMOs have to do with world hunger? As part of its marketing campaign, the biotech industry has touted that genetically engineered crops are the answer to world hunger. However, many organizations and individuals have pointed out that conventional agriculture produces more than enough food to feed the world without the potential health, environmental, and economic risks associated with GMOs. Production is not the problem, distribution is. According to Miguel A. Altieri of UC Berkeley and Peter Rosset of Food First, “The world today produces more food per inhabitant than ever before… Enough is available to provide 4.3 pounds per person everyday. The real causes of hunger are poverty, inequality, and lack of access. Too many people are too poor to buy the food that is available (but often poorly distributed) or lack the land and resources to grow it themselves.

What about the biotech industry’s claim that it would genetically alter food to increase its nutritional quality? In a recent NY Times article called, “Biotech’s Sparse Harvest,” Andrew Pollack wrote that while “scientists were envisioning all sorts of healthier and tastier foods,” after a decade of genetic engineering, commercialized GM crops have only been modified for herbicide and pest resistance, which is a short-term convenience to farmers but provides no benefits to consumers. Moreover, scientists around the world have expressed concerns about health risks associated with GM crops, including potential allergies, toxins, antibiotic resistance, and cancer. As a result, not only have consumers around the world refused to buy GM crops, but many humanitarian organizations and foreign governments have also refused to accept it as food aid. To protect developing countries’ rights, Kucinich’s bill states that the developing country must consent to the importation of U.S. approved genetically altered crops.

Michele Laubscher of the Alliance, a coalition of Swiss charities, states that encouraging developing nations to plant their own genetically modified crops “only increases the difficulties faced by small farmers by making them dependent on the agrichemical business.” The Alliance points out that genetically modified seeds are more expensive than conventional seeds due to patenting and licensing fees. Kucinich has repeated this same idea: “Economics remain the significant barrier to a consistent food supply, and the development of expensive genetically engineered foods may only exacerbate this trend.”

GM seeds also carry technological risks that farmers in third world nations cannot afford to take. The Sentinel reported last week that Texas cotton farmers sued Monsanto, because the GM cotton it developed to withstand Roundup applications failed. While these types of crop failures have certainly created a financial hardship for American farmers, they have been even more detrimental to poor, developing countries, such as India. While soy, canola, corn, and cotton have all been genetically altered to resist the weed killer, Roundup, corn and cotton have also been genetically modified to produce their own insecticide called Bt. Cotton has long been the backbone of India’s economy, and the decision to plant Bt cotton has had a devastating effect on its farmers, resulting in farmer suicides. This year, a NDTV broadcast covered the story of cotton farmers in the Andhra Pradesh region of India who had planted Monsanto’s expensive Bt cotton with the hope of greater yields. However, the Bt cotton produced much lower crop yields than their conventional cotton, resulting in huge debts and farmer suicides. “Bt cotton is hardly useful. They (Monsanto) had said it would yield ten to twelve or even fifteen quintals, but I only got three quintals,” said Devaiah, an Indian cotton farmer. “It has not significantly reduced pesticide use. It has not reduced cultivation cost. It has, in fact, increased cultivation cost.” “There’s no high yield. Farmers have suffered negative returns. That is why the first Bt cotton suicides have started to be reported,” said P V Satheesh of the organization, South Against Genetic Engineering. Due to all of the various risks associated with planting GM crops, Kucinich’s bill calls for increased international research into organic and sustainable agricultural practices funded through a small tax on the biotech industry’s profits.

Although there is mounting evidence that genetic engineering is not a panacea for world hunger and may actually make the problem worse, many people doubt that the biotech corporations have such an altruistic motive in the first place. For instance, if Monsanto, the leader in biotechnology, was concerned about preventing world hunger, why has the corporation developed “Terminator Technology” to produce sterile seeds, preventing farmers from saving and reusing seed from year to year and forcing them to buy new seed annually? Back in 1998, the magazine, the Ecologist, asked another question: “The giant Monsanto Corporation tells us that genetic engineering is all about feeding the hungry, about protecting the environment. But this is the company that brought us Agent Orange, PCBs, and Bovine Growth Hormone: the same company that produces Roundup…and the highly questionable ‘Terminator Technology’…Can we allow corporations like Monsanto to gamble with the very future of life on Earth?”

David Sirota, author of the book, Hostile Takeover, doesn’t expect corporations to have altruistic motives. However, he does expect the U.S. government to prevent corporations from hurting people both here and abroad. He wrote, “Corporations exist for one reason and one reason only: the relentless, single-minded pursuit of profits no matter who gets shafted…But in our country, corporations aren’t supposed to be allowed to pursue this purpose in a vacuum, unchecked, unregulated, unopposed. There is supposed to be a counterweight, a government separate from Big Business whose job is to prevent corporate profit motive from destroying society…But that government, as we all know, is long gone.”

Since first world countries around the world have rejected genetically modified crops, leaving American farmers with a surplus, is the United States trying to find another outlet for these products by “dumping” them on people starving in third world countries, as the organization, Food First, suggests on its website? Is it fair to make poor countries choose between starvation and food that is untested, unlabeled, unwanted, and potentially unsafe? What is the biotech industry’s motivation—altruism or profit? And will the U.S. government step in to protect citizens here and abroad, and risk alienating the biotech industry, a powerful lobby? Or is Sirota correct when he says that government is long gone?

GMOs: Risks and Liabilities for Farmers

Article No. 2
by Erica Martenson, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Last week, the Napa Sentinel reported on two bills that Congressman Kucinich recently reintroduced into the House of Representatives—one to mandate the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods and the other to require the Food and Drug Administration to perform safety tests on GM foods before they are released onto the market. Two other bills he introduced to regulate GMOs are aimed at protecting farmers from the risks and liabilities of this experimental and controversial technology.

Last year, when the ballot initiative was put forth to place a ten-year moratorium on the planting of genetically modified crops in Sonoma County, those in opposition spent a half a million dollars to make the initiative seem “anti-farmer.” The reality is that farmers were split on the issue with farmers committed to sustainable and organic agricultural practices and those concerned about the integrity of Sonoma’s agriculture supporting the temporary ban and conventional farmers who believed the technology beneficial opposed. What did not come out in the fierce campaign battle in which proponents and opponents were limited to ten-second sound bites and a few words on a billboard, was that many farmers have been hurt by this technology and more could be hurt in the future, so much so that Kucinich wrote two bills specifically to protect farmers’ rights in relation to GMOs.

According to Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, the biotech industry spends about $50 million each year marketing this technology to the community at large but especially to farmers and producers. This aggressive marketing campaign, combined with a media that has been silenced due to industry threats of libel lawsuits and loss of advertising, has resulted in a public that is aware of the potential benefits but almost completely unaware of the possible risks (Smith, pgs. 183-229). One of the provisions in Kucinich’s “Genetically Engineered Crop and Animal Farmer Protection Act” (H.R. 5266) requires companies selling GMOs to disclose all known risks.

Perhaps the largest risk to farmers is a decrease in profits. Studies have shown that U.S. farmers growing GM crops have lost billions of dollars due to lost exports, lower crop prices, and product recalls. Government subsidies have increased about $3 to 5 billion annually to keep these farmers afloat (Smith, pg. 154). Farmers have lost so much money as a result of GM crops that 200 organizations representing farmers and the organic movement successfully banded together to prevent the introduction of a new GM crop onto the market—wheat (www.psrast.org). Why is the U.S. government continuing to subsidize a technology that is unprofitable? Consumer demand for organics grew 30% last year and has been one of the fastest growing food sectors (www.businesweek.com). Why doesn’t the U.S. government shift its focus away from GM crops, which consumers clearly don’t want, and instead subsidize farmers wanting to convert over to organic and sustainable practices, which would be more profitable, better for the environment, and doesn’t carry the health risks of GMOs?

Another potential risk for farmers is that the technology can fail. For example, most of the GM crops already on the market have been genetically modified by Monsanto Corporation to resist Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. By blasting a gene from a bacterium that is resistant to Roundup into the cells of soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton, farmers can indiscriminately spray these crops with Roundup, killing weeds but not their crop. However, there have been cases of the technology failing. For instance, this year, more than ninety Texas cotton farmers sued Monsanto, stating that “Monsanto's ‘Roundup Ready’ cotton did not tolerate applications of Monsanto's Roundup weed killer as it has been genetically altered to do. The farmers claim there is evidence that the promoter gene inserted into the cotton seeds in the genetic modification process does not work as designed in extreme high heat and drought conditions, allowing herbicide to eat into plant tissue, leading to boll deformity, shedding, and reduced yields. The plaintiffs claim Monsanto knew this but did not disclose it, so the farmers would continue to buy and use Monsanto's Roundup herbicide” (Gillam, Reuters). Kucinich’s bill would not only require the developer, in this case, Monsanto, to disclose such information, it would confirm that farmers have the right to seek compensation for their loss.

Another provision in this same bill would give farmers the right to reuse seeds and would prevent biotech corporations from developing sterile seeds. Farmers have been saving and reusing seed from year to year since the beginning of agriculture. This practice is especially important in poor, developing countries that cannot afford to buy new seed each year. However, biotech corporations patent their genetically modified seeds and can dictate that the seed only be used once. Monsanto has even developed the technology to produce sterile seeds, which guarantees that the farmer can only use the seed one time and must buy new seed annually. Monsanto has patented these “terminator” or “suicide” seeds but has not been able to release them onto the market, because the United Nations has intervened and prevented them from doing so (www.gmfreeze.org). Biotech corporations have been buying up natural seed companies and retiring them (Smith, pg. 2). Meanwhile, they are developing more and more varieties of GM seeds. In 1999, when Monsanto’s executives were asked what their view of the “ideal future” would be, they replied, “A world with 100% of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented” (Smith, pg. 1). For many, the idea of a few biotech corporations gaining ownership and control over our food supply is a frightening thought.

Finally, the “Genetically Engineered Organism Liability Act” (H.R. 5271) places all liability for any negative impacts caused by GMOs onto the developer, instead of the farmer or producer. In his speech before the House of Representatives, Kucinich stated, “Biotech companies are selling a technology that is being commercialized far in advance of the new and unknown science of genetic engineering. Farmers may suffer from crop failures, neighboring farmers may suffer from cross pollination [of GM pollen], increased insect resistance, and unwanted 'volunteer' genetically engineered plants, and consumers may suffer from health and environmental impacts. Therefore, biotech companies should be found liable for the failures of genetically engineered crops. This bill ensures that the creator of the technology assumes all liability.”

Biotech corporations being held liable for the contamination of non-GM crops with GM pollen is the opposite of what has taken place thus far. Monsanto has sued and taken to court hundreds of small farmers whose non-GM crops have been contaminated by GM pollen, stating they have violated its patent rights. For example, Monsanto sued Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer whose conventional canola was contaminated by pollen from nearby Roundup Ready canola. According to Schmeiser, "I never had anything to do with Monsanto, outside of buying chemicals. I never signed a contract. If I would go to St. Louis (Monsanto Headquarters) and contaminate their plots, destroy what they have worked on for forty years, I think I would be put in jail and the key thrown away" (www.organicconsumers.org). The Canadian Supreme Court decided that it did not matter how the GM canola got there, and Percy Schmeiser lost the case.

So, what would these two bills mean to our local area? During the debate on the ballot initiative in Sonoma, it came out that a few farmers in Sonoma are growing Roundup Ready corn used mainly for animal feed. Currently, those farmers can be held liable for any negative impacts their corn causes to people’s health, the environment, or neighboring farmers, if their conventional or organic corn were to become contaminated through cross-pollination, which has occurred as far away as fifty miles. Here in Napa, Grandpa Jack’s Farm grows certified organic produce, including organic corn. They invest a lot of time and money to get their organic certification, and their corn commands a higher price as a result. What financial hardship would that create for them, if their corn was to become contaminated with GM pollen, and they could no longer sell it as “organic?” How would they know which farmers’ GM corn contaminated their crop? Who would they sue for compensation? Would Monsanto sue them for violating its patent rights? Kucinich’s bill would make it clear that Monsanto would be liable for their financial loss; however, it still doesn’t address the problem of contamination itself. How can we prevent birds, bees, and wind from cross-pollinating non-GM crops with GM pollen? Over time, will there even be a non-GM or organic option, if this trend continues? Such problems have yet to be addressed, which is why cities, counties, states, and countries around the world have called for temporary bans on the planting of GM crops, until such issues are resolved, if they can even be resolved.

GMOs: Testing and Labeling

This is the first of a series of articles written by Erica Martenson and printed in the Napa Sentinel. There are reprinted in this post and the following two with permission of the Sentinel.

__

by Erica Martenson, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

What do genetically modified (GM) foods have to do with democracy? According to Frances Moore LappĂ©, author of the book, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, “Everything.” She wrote, “Think about it: None of us called for the genetic manipulation of seeds. Not one of us said, yes, this new technology will benefit me, my family and my community...No citizens were asked to weigh the risks of GMOs against possible gains. Yet today most of us are eating them, while kept completely in the dark as to the hazards we may be facing-- for ourselves, our children, and the farming ecosystems on which our lives depend."

Not only have the American people been left out of the decision-making process with respect to genetically engineered foods and beverages, but also due to a lack of labeling, Americans are eating them on a regular basis without their knowledge and without their consent. Polls consistently show that year after year about 90% of Americans want the federal government to require the labeling of GM foods, so they can choose whether or not they wish to consume them. Given that statistic, why hasn’t the U.S. government already mandated the labeling of GM products, giving American consumers the same right as people in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, and other countries, all of which have already passed such legislation?

According to Jeffrey M. Smith, author of the best-selling book on genetically engineered foods called, Seeds of Deception, in one year alone, the biotech industry spent $142 million lobbying the government. It’s not surprising the biotech industry has been lobbying so hard to prevent labeling laws, since surveys show that 57% of Americans would prefer to avoid GM food, and studies also show that the more people learn about GM foods, the less they trust them. The labeling of GM foods in the United States would likely lead to their demise, if what happened in other countries is any indication.

In countries that have required GM foods to be labeled, lack of consumer demand has led food manufacturers to remove GM ingredients from their products and grocery stores to pull GM foods off store shelves. Up to this point, here in the U.S., the federal government has protected the biotech industry by not requiring that GM products be labeled, which gives rise to a few questions: Will the U.S. government continue that same policy? Or will it reflect the will of 90% of Americans? Are we still truly a representative democracy and a capitalist society in which consumer choice and consumer demand drive the economy? We shall soon see…

On May 2nd, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D, Ohio) introduced six bills into the House of Representatives to regulate genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are currently unregulated and unmonitored by the Food and Drug Administration, even though the agency’s own scientists have expressed concerns about possible health risks, including potential allergies, toxins, antibiotic resistance, and nutritional problems. The six bills are known collectively as the, “Genetically Engineered Regulatory Framework.”

One of the bills Kucinich introduced called, “The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act” (H.R. 5269) would require food manufacturers to label any products that have been genetically modified and would also allow companies to market their products as being “GM-Free.” Another bill named, “The Genetically Engineered Food Safety Act” (H. R. 5268) would require the Food and Drug Administration to perform safety tests on genetically altered foods to make sure they are safe for human consumption, using the same testing standards they utilize to approve new food additives. In letters to his constituents on this issue, Representative Mike Thompson states that he believes that genetically modified foods should be tested for safety and clearly labeled; however, according to the current Congressional record, he has not yet co-sponsored either of these bills. These bills can be seen as a litmus test. How the House of Representatives eventually votes will give insight into whom they really represent—the American people or a handful of biotech corporations.

In his remarks to the House of Representatives when introducing the six bills, Kucinich stated, “These bills will protect our food, environment, and health. They are a common-sense precaution to ensure genetically engineered foods do no harm…Current laws, such as our food safety and environmental laws, were not written with this technology in mind. Clearer laws are necessary to ensure that these new scientific capabilities and associated impacts are closely monitored.”

And how do the issues of safety testing and labeling of GM products relate to the genetically modified wine yeast the Napa Sentinel reported on last week? In his research article titled, “Genetically Modified Wine Now Being Sold,” Dr. Joseph Cummins, Genetics Professor at the University of Western Ontario, commented on the fact that there was no evidence that the developer of the GM yeast performed any animal feeding studies to test for toxicity, even though genetically altering wine yeasts “can lead to unexpected toxicity in the final product.” In addition, this GM wine yeast has only been approved in North America, where GMOs are unregulated, and since American wines using it would not currently be labeled as such, he says, “It is only prudent to avoid all U.S. wines,” except perhaps those labeled “organic.”

“This is a current crisis. This is about the food we eat. What are we willing to risk? On what limited information? Are we willing to run across railroad tracks blindfolded with our children tied to us with a train coming down the track?” questioned Lowell Downey of the Napa County Green Party.

Tom Brocaw explains Global Warming

In the middle of the Vietnam War, Walter Cronkite used his position at CBS news to take a stand and to explain more than the government was pleased with. LBJ was quoted as having said, ""If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America". Well, Brokaw does not have Cronkite's stature, but he is Middle America, small town S. Dakota and maybe his spending two hours on Discovery channel last night will give the issue some legitimacy.

It was, at least, of enough concern that OK Senator James Imhofe had The Environment and Public Works attack Brokaw even before the program aired. They slammed him for bias and his biggest sin was to quote from scientists who had voted for John Kerry.

From another viewpoint, here is a review from an Susan L. Smith, Professor of Enviornmental Law at Willamette University School of Law. Smith screened the Brokaw program and saw Al Gore's movie, An Inconveniente Truth on the same day.

This AM, I sent the following to the editor of the Stockton Record, the major paper in the district of Richard Pombo. If they publish it, that will be the first time.

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After watching Tom Brocaw on the Discovery Channel last night, I became convince that Richard Pombo is conducting a great experiment in public policy. At a time when the consenseus of scientific opinion is that global warming is really happening and that the major cause is the carbon dioxide produced by man, Pombo continues to insist that there is not enough scientific data on which to base public policy. With that one statement, he is telling us that he will base his policies on something other than the best set of facts that we have. Pombo's great experiment is to see how long we can last if we ignore the facts of global warming. Let me outline three examples.

Pombo has built his career on the support of private property rights, especially when they might be limited by the regulations of the Endangered Species Act. If you are forced to accept the facts that global warming is real, then you have to ask what does that mean for the survivability of species on this planet. NASA's Dr. James Hansen, perhaps the leading developer of computer models of the climate, has estimated that as many as 50% of the species on this planet may not survive, being unable to adapt to the rate at which earth's climate is changing. Maybe that is what Pombo wants and this is part of his grand experiment.

The two leading sources of increased carbon dioxide in the air are vehicluar exhaust and electric power generation. Pombo's policies involve increased exploitation of oil and natural gas as well as the increased use of coal fired power generation plants. Both of these are pouring tons of carbon into the air on an increasing basis. Rather than putting a maximum effort into finding solutions to our energy needs that do not require the burning of fossil fuels, Pombo is saying that we must burnmore , develop more sources, more quickly and make this a question of national security. Is it not a question of national security to deal with the major threat to the way we live?

The most dramatic effect of global warming is the melting of the waters locked up in ice, in Antarctica, the Arctic ice cap and in Greenland. These three areas contain enough fresh water to raise the level of the ocean by many feet. We have seen what happens when a city built below sea level is faced with the power of a major hurricane. Do we have to wait until Stockton is the next New Orleans? There is a push on right now to rebuild the levees in the Delta. How high are the new levees being built? Are they 3 feet higher? Will three feet be enough when as the oceans rise? Why then, would Richard Pombo be so concerned about our Federal Government releasing new flood plain maps for the Delta. The FEMA maps are based on historical data and the concept of a 200 year flood diaster. They do not yet consider the effects of global warming, and still Pombo does not want to let us see them.

The normal cycles of climate change happen relatively slowly. This man made climate change is happening at an increasing pace. As Pombo's grand experiment in ignoring facts plays out, remember, it is our lives that he is playing with. Our children will have to live in the world that he is making. This is all a question of how we use our resources. Pombo chairs the House Committee on Resources and he is playing a game with our future.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Telling the right story.

I recently listened to linguist Geoffrey Nunberg talk about political narrative This was a long segment on FORUM, KQED, San Francisco. If you want to listen to it all, it is a 23 m-byte MP3 file. But, I listened live, and then downloaded it so that I can listen again.

Nunberg is the author of a recen book, "Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism Into A Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show." That is why Liberals are now so afraid of the L-word that they call themselves progressives.

Nunbers makes two key points. The Republicans have gotten the story down to such a simple tale that even such a bland, boring, non-personality as Bill Frist can tell it well. Maybe the best characterization of the story comes from a simple quote from George W. Bush: "I am glad to be here in middle America where people still respect simple values."

Progressives, I mean Liberals, like to get angry at and make fun of Bush. He has been elected twice. As the host on Forums state, Liberals in Wisconsin made fun of Tommy Thompson, and he was elected four times. That line from Bush is a divisive statement, that positions a member of the oil rich, East Coast elite as just one of the boys down at the drug store.

On the other hand, Clinton had a different narrative. "I am tired of seeing people who work hard and play be the rules get the shaft." Simple, easy to understand, and you knew whatever came next, he was on your side.

I would suggest that all Green Party activists, especially our candidates, listen to Nunberg's session, or go read his book. I think that we have lost our narrative in a plethora of programs.

We should be for the middle class trying to make it as a homeowner while corporations get big subsidies.

We should be for the small businessman trying to keep his business going and pay his workers a fair wage in the face of increasing health insurance costs.

We should not allow the right to turn ecological policy into a property rights issue, because air and water and all those creatures don't know where my property ends your property starts.

This is not a matter of "framing" the debate correctly. It is a matter of knowing what story you are telling. The Green story is a wonderful one. Just start telling it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Immigration

One group of Greens has realized that the Immigration Plank of the GPCA platform is very far out of date and have taken steps to fix the problem. The current plank is old enough to call for the "repeal of Proposition 187."

The most recent campaign appeal from Peter Camejo includes the following:
Reform our immigration policies, legalize those already here and fight to set a legalized immigration level from Mexico to one person per hundred Californias every four years. End the "Exclued Mexicans" laws perprated by the Democratic and Republican parties.

This is the first time that I have seen GPCA propose a verson of a quota system on immigration. I wonder if this addresses only the symptoms, the size of the economic migration, and not the causes.

The immigration plank is under development, and it has been chaning almost daily. You can read the current proposal text in pdf format. The plank text is...

Proposed Immigration plank.

The Green Party supports policies (as advocated by Cesar Chavez) which seek to integrate, rather than alienate, immigrant labor. We should acknowledge and celebrate the influence of diverse cultures in the mosaic that is the unique California culture
  • International borders should be recognized as areas of bi-nationalinterdependence. International borders would create authentic fair-trade zoneswhere people are free to travel across borders for work, shopping or recreation.

    • Barrier walls between countries are ineffective. Thus, walls along the U.S-Mexican border should be destroyed and their construction should be halted

    • Reduce private and public militarization of U.S.-Mexican border

  • The Green Party supports the creation of a multinational labor union that establishes consistent policies in each country which ensure a living wage, health benefits and safe working conditions.

  • In order to create compliance with the principles of fair trade, the Green Party supports the renegotiation of: international trade agreements such as CAFTA and NAFTA; policies of IMF, World Bank and other international banking institutions; and of terms and conditions of contracts with multinational corporations.

  • All immigrant workers in the U.S. must be subject to U.S. wage, tax and labor laws including workplace health and safety standards as well as worker’s compensation, disability and unemployment insurance benefits.

  • Legalization programs which provide immigrants with the ability to obtain Permanent Residency status should provide reasonable time frames to complete the process and should be fair, simplified, transparent, and affordable.

  • Immigration quotas based on race, class and ideology should be abandoned for immigration policies that promote fairness, non-discrimination and family reunification. Particular attention should be given to immigrants who are political
    exiles and refugees.

The Green Party supports policies that restore and guarantee basic human rights to all persons residing in the United States
  • We oppose the continuing legislative trend of reducing and / or denying services to immigrants that are available to all other workers.
    • We advocate voting rights for permanent residents, as was the law prior to World War 1.

  • All immigrants, regardless of status, have the right to receive medical care, education, housing and access to all available public benefits and services.

  • Interpreters should be available in emergency rooms, hospitals and health care clinics.

  • All immigrants, regardless of status have the right to apply for a driver’s license without immigration status notification or restriction.

The Green Party supports policies that restore and guarantee the civil rights provided for under the Constitution of the United States which specifically states that the rights apply to all persons residing in the United States.
  • All immigrants, regardless of status, have 1st amendment rights of freedom of speech, and the freedom of assembly and association.

  • For all civil and criminal hearing, all immigrants have due process rights to beinformed of the charges brought against them, to confront their accusers, to have competent legal representation and to have a speedy trial. All immigrants have the right to free interpreter assistance for al legal proceedings. These rights mustapply to the deportation internment and hearing process.

  • The use of force or torture or other means to compel testimony against themselves or to obtain confessions must be banned.

  • All immigrants have the right to be secure in their houses, and protected against unreasonable search and seizure.

  • All immigrants must be protected against arbitrary arrest or detention based on racial or cultural profiling.

  • All immigrants have the right to be protected against intimidation by public officials or private individuals. Enforcement of immigration laws is the responsibility of the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Requiring local law enforcement agencies to serve as adjunct immigration agents of the Federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency is to be banned.