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I was talking about the auto-industry bailout with a friend today, and he linked me to a couple of blogposts that I'm still mulling over. I agree with the poster's view that unions were vital to creating an American middle class, that we have a lot to thank them for, and that if the American auto industry was allowed to fail as the Republicans want it to, it would be completely devastating for the workers of this country. But then I reached this part:

So why do crunchy Detroit-hating liberals refuse to acknowledge GM's innovation? Why is it so much easier just to follow these common memes of hatred and loathing rather consider that these companies might be worth saving not just for the jobs and the economy of the Rust Belt, but for the innovation that our American engineers and designers might bring to the table?

- and it was like, where has this guy been for the past twenty years? I don't know specifics about the auto industry, but I do know that the big three have been doing everything they could to stifle competition and innovation and prevent Congress from imposing necessary environmental standards, and for anyone to claim otherwise seems kind of insane. Where was this guy when GM founded the Global Climate Coalition in 1989, which funded denialist think-tanks and spent millions of dollars deriding climate change as unproven science, which is probably the single biggest reason why many Americans think that Climate Change is a controversial theory? Where was he when GM pulled the plug on its electric car over ten years ago because they thought that its gas guzzlers would be more profitable? Where was he when GM was pouring millions of dollars into Washington lobbying against raising the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, threatening massive job losses and bankruptcies if they were passed? Where was he when they were filing lawsuits against states that attempted to limit vehicle carbon emissions? Where was he when they pushed for a legal loophole for SUVs that made them exempt from the fuel efficiency guidelines smaller vehicles had to follow and allowed buyers to deduct their costs, which resulted in thousands of professionals buying those vehicles and a loss to taxpayers of about $1 billion for every 1,000 such SUVs sold? Where was he when they funded the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which launched several misleading ad campaigns stating that increased fuel economy standards would decrease the safety and functionality of automobiles? Where was he when the CEO of GM called global warming a crock of shit and claimed that fuel efficient cars made no economic sense? Where was he when GM was doing everything it could to stop states from adopting stricter environmental standards?

Am I just supposed to forget these things because OH LOOK, GM says that there's a car coming out two years from now that will be completely fuel efficient, we don't need the government to impose harsher restrictions, we're doing everything we can for our consumers and this country and this world trust us we promise??

GM does not stand for innovation; it's a reactionary company that has done everything it could these past twenty years to block it, and it's going to take a lot more than ludicrous attempts at greenwashing or empty promises of fuel efficient cars to make me believe that it has changed, especially when those promises seem to be nothing more than another political ploy, a way to once again stop Congress from passing higher CAFE standards. Because what's at stake here isn't just auto workers from Detroit; what's at stake is the survival of the three billion poor in the world, the ones that live on less than $2 a day, some who can't afford to move from the coasts, and if the current trend isn't reversed, stand lose their homes and possibly their lives to floods or cyclones; some who will lose their livelihoods because of desertification; some who will face water shortages because of retreating glaciers; some who will die of diseases directly attributable to climate change; some who will die, are dying, of hunger because the environment that they depended on is no longer able to provide them with enough food. And to not acknowledge this is just as infuriating and short-sighted as the so-called latte-sipping liberals on the coasts failing to acknowledge the hardships of the auto-workers in Detroit. And, yeah, I find the amount of derision and hate directed towards this demographic, in that post and others, quite amazing, especially considering that the ones who are blocking the auto bailout are the conservatives. There are many cases where progressive liberals have gotten things wrong, but their distrust of the big three, imo, isn't one of them.

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I haven't been too impressed by Obama's cabinet appointments so far, and Vilsack as the head of the USDA is no exception. I mean, what is this? Obama promises to work against corporate interests, and then turns around to select a Monsanto lackey as head of the Department of Agriculture? (And, unsurprisingly enough, the MSM seem to see nothing wrong with this.)

I liked this article from Daily Kos, explaining why GMOs are a bad idea.

excerpt:

So what about GMOs? Well, we tinker with a gene or two, and then we put it out in nature for a test run. Over time, nature will work it out. Nature always does. But it does it on nature's schedule... the resulting chaos in the ecosystem could even take thousands of years to be resolved. Nature and humans work on very different timelines. In other words, we can really screw ourselves with GMOs in the short run, even if nature successfully incorporates our GMOs into the ecosystem in the long run.

The difference between GMOs and pesticides is that GMOs are forever. Some pesticides stay in the environment for a long time. Others can break down in the environment rather quickly. But what's a long time for a pesticide? A century? That's the blink of an eye in the evolutionary process. The amount of risk involved in putting GMOs into the environment WILL NEVER equal the benefit, particularly considering the non-risky options we have at our fingertips for accomplishing the same goals.

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A primer on Canadian government
This is fascinating. I had no idea that Canadian politics was so crazy.

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Breaking News: Al Qaeda to apply for bailout.
Oh dear. I suppose it was only a matter of time.

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More on the credit crisis:

The Genesis Plan, which imo comes much closer to what Congress should have done. The only reservation I have is that I don't think the author realizes just how undercapitalized and overleveraged banks are right now, and major steps would have to be taken to insure that a few do survive, at least in the short term - there are only so many shocks that the financial system can take at one time without bringing down the entire economy. I'm of the opinion right now that our financial system is completely flawed and must be taken down if we ever want to have a clean recovery, however, it must be dismantled carefully if we don't want the entire economy to crumble. The problem with regulators and lawmakers, however, is that they're going to deny this until its too late, and the author of the Genesis plan goes into why here.

Other than this plan, there is also the option of making banks write down all losses, followed by the complete nationalization of the banking system, which no one seems to have even the guts to contemplate.

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Nothing to lose but our illusions: an interview with David Edwards

It's weird to come across an article whose premise I agree with so much and which also, at the same time, I cannot take seriously at all.

The beginning paragraph - "After climbing the business career ladder for most of his twenties, David Edwards left his management-level marketing job to become a writer. He had no idea how he was going to make a living, but the standard version of success had increasingly felt to him like a terrible, deadening failure. "Three things had become obvious to me," the English author says: "the misery of conventional 'success'; the vast and perhaps terminal havoc this 'success' was wreaking on the world; and the fact that no one was talking about either." - I can totally, totally relate to this. At the same time, though, the author strikes me as very naive, in that he doesn't realize just how few people are going to be able to do what he did, the large amount of privilege he has that allows him to step off the conventional path - to quit his job and move to Thailand and teach there. How is someone who has parents or children or a spouse to support supposed to do this, or someone who has loans to repay, or someone who isn't white and can't get a job as easily as he did, or someone who can't afford to fly to another state let alone another third world country, or someone who didn't have parents that were able to afford the education he received that allowed him to get the management-level job he did, enabling him to have enough initial money to contemplate another path, so on and so forth. It's the blind assumption that everyone can do as he did, and not just that but encouraging them to do so, without realizing that there is a social pyramid and by being who he is, white and male, he has always been on top of it, and that is what affords him the freedom to do as he did without completely wrecking his life and that of others who depend on him.

Also, the fact that it was written in 2000 and portrays Bill Clinton as the antichrist, which um. YEAH. That said, though, I completely agree with his views re: the emptiness of our current consumerist society and the damage it wrecks both on others & to our own psyches. There's this anecdote I once heard - I can't exactly recall where - of a tiger that had been imprisoned in a small cage ever since he was a baby, and then one day the cage was taken away, and yet he still prowled in the same exact area, back and forth and back and forth, caged by now invisible bars. That's what most people - that's what our culture itself - reminds me of.

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In other news, I would like my life to settle down and become a little bit less crazy. I am tired by now of living in interesting times! I WANT MY DAYS OF BOREDOM BACK.

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A post describing racism and its effects.

"Being anti-racist means more than refraining from using racist language. You can scrub every single racial epithet from your vocabulary and still be a racist. If you feel the overwhelming need to cross the street when you see a group of young black men in fear, that is racist behaviour. If you never think to question when you see blacks portrayed in the media as drug addicted criminals, that is racist. If you can mentally picture all of your friends and cannot point to a single one that belongs to a marginalized group, that is racist. If you think that by consuming food from a different culture you are displaying your global ideals, that is racist. If you believe that you can appropriate cultural symbols and wear them for the sake of fashion, that is racist. This list can go on and on because daily people participate in actions that are either directly racist, or have racist undertones, with little or no thought to the bodies that it effects."

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This reminds me of a video I was linked to recently, a conversation between Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the neo-conservative blonde on The View, about racism. Hasselbeck was talking about how terrible African-Americans were for using the N-word, how was she supposed to teach her children not to use it if they did, didn't they realize that they all lived in the same world? And Goldberg called her on that, saying that they didn't, her experiences were completely different, and in response Hasselbeck - started crying.

Point goes to Hasselbeck for such effective personification of the "WHY ARE YOU BEING SO MEAN TO ME ME ME" defense.

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Make Believe Maverick, a Rolling Stone article that makes John McCain seem worse than George W. Bush.

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I think the articles I agree with the most on the financial crisis are these from the UK. I'd never come across the website before, and I'm still not quite sure who they are, but what they say and how they describe the current problem makes sense.

Their view on the bailout.

"SchNEWS never thought that Neo Labour would do so much to boost the welfare state. Over the last six months the government has pumped an unprecedented (and gigantic) amount of cash into the welfare system. The only trouble is that this money is not heading for the needy, but the greedy as we’re talking about the welfare state...for big business.

The country’s wealth is being squandered supporting the very company shareholders that have been arguing for years that, in Maggie Thatcher’s words, “the business of government is not the government of business.” Interfering politicians hell-bent on regulating the market only serve to hamper the competitive spirit, say the profit-hungry capitalists. Unless, that is, the interference comes in the form of hard cash designed to prop up their ailing investments at a time of crisis.

Following ‘Meltdown Monday’ and the ensuing turmoil in the corridors of global capital earlier this week, rampant free-marketeers are now clambering for more government cash to bail out the banking and financial system. And we are talking intergalactic telephone numbers. After years of sucking out huge commissions, profits and bonuses (Krug all round!), recorded losses for the banking and insurance sectors are now running at £275,000,000,000 - and it is estimated that this figure will double over the next twelve months. So far the most ‘market friendly’ governments in the world have pumped enough money into the system to cover 80% of these losses. Some analysts are estimating that Western governments will spend $1 trillion of public money bailing out the financial corporate sector and it’s shareholders. Shareholders who have been only too happy to reap the benefits in recent years, without ever worrying about how their miraculous wealth was actually being created."

Their description of the credit crisis.

"Household debt has increased from 50% of GDP in 1980 to 100% in 2007. Financial sector borrowing has gone from 21% to 116% of assets in the same period. In fact, a chief cheerleader of the brave new financial world was the former boss of now bust Goldman Sachs – one Henry Paulson. He took them from $20 billion in debts in 1999 to $100 billion when he left. Having helped cause the crisis, and getting rich off it, he’s now the man putting forward the bail out plan as US Treasury Secretary. Despite self-imposed limits, Governments have also ramped up their debt levels – achieved by privatising everything in sight and putting all the deals ‘off balance sheet’ (thanks, Gordon!)

So lenders now routinely now lend out more than the total assets of the company. It was all made possible by massive deregulation, the completion of the project started in the Thatcher / Reagan free market era, as big business and their lobbies finally succeeding in getting politicians completely in their pocket, and indeed direct pay. Light touch regulation gave way to feather light.

Read more... )

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Some of you are probably aware of how idiotic I found the arguments in hack-economist Friedman's The World is Flat. Imagine my glee when I found out that there has been a recently published book that says the same, though using nicer words: The World Is Flat? A Critical Analysis of NYT Bestseller by Thomas Friedman. I like the reviews like this:

"However, Thomas Friedman's runaway bestseller, The World is Flat, is dangerous. Friedman makes "arguments by assertion," assertions based not on documented facts, but on stories from friends and elite CEOs he visits --not even one footnote reference. Yet his book influences business and government leaders around the globe. By what it leaves out, it does nothing more than misinform the American people and our leaders.

Aronica and Ramdoo show that the world isn't flat; it's tilted in favor of unfettered global corporations that exploit cheap labor in China, India and beyond. This concise monograph brings clarity to many of Friedman's misconceptions, and explores nine key issues that Friedman largely ignores, including the hollowing out of America's debt-ridden middle class. To create a fair and balanced exploration of globalization, the authors cite the work of experts that Friedman fails to incorporate, including Nobel laureate and former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz."

And, especially this review by Bharat Raj:

"Thomas Friedman's book was triggered by the CEO of an Indian software company in Bangalore who said the playing field was being leveled. Then, as only a celebrity pundit can do, Friedman spun a sound bite, "The World is Flat," and garnished story after story from his elite contacts, while avoiding contact with the likes of Dr. Vandana Shiva, Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology and others who have a different perspective on what's really happening in India.

Here's a snippet from Dr. Shiva in Aronica and Ramdoo's book, "Friedman presents a 0.1% picture and hides 99.9%. And in the 99.9% are Monsanto's seed monopolies and the suicides of thousands of farmers. In the hidden 99.9% economy are thousands of tribal children in Orissa, Maharashtra, Rajasthan who died of hunger because the public distribution system for food has been dismantled to create markets for agribusiness. The world of the 99.9% has grown poorer because of the economic globalisation. Free-trade is about corporate freedom and citizen disenfranchisement. What Friedman is presenting as a new `flatness' is in fact a new caste system, a new Brahminism, locked in hierarchies of exclusion. By presenting open sourcing in the same category as outsourcing and off shore production, Friedman hides corporate greed, corporate monopolies and corporate power, and presents corporate globalisation as human creativity and freedom. This is deliberate dishonesty, not just result of flat vision."

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Guantanamo: Beyond the Law
I wonder when the majority of Republicans are going to realize (if they ever do) that the greatest threat to democracy right now isn't terrorism but the actions that the Bush administration has taken, and that they have endorsed, in the name of combatting it. (And don't even get me started on all the spineless Democrats that just rolled over and let them because they didn't want to appear "soft on terror", which really should be translated as hard on basic human rights. The hypocrisy of it all leaves such a bad taste in my mouth.)

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ohwow. These military defense lawyers are so brave. Fighting against the war crimes system will probably derail their careers, but they do it anyway because its the right thing to do. Stories like this leave me completely starry-eyed.

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Beginning with an article I whole-heartedly endorse.

This article talks about the food crisis that we're facing today, the real extent of which I hadn't even realized. One of the things that struck me was when it discussed the migration of farmers to cities. An excerpt:

One of the major factors pushing this mass and continuing migration to the cities—in addition to being landless or forced off land—is the difficulty to make a living as a small farmer. This has been made especially difficult, as countries have implemented the “neoliberal” policies recommended or mandated by the IMF, the World Bank, and even some of the western NGOs working in the poor countries of the third world. The neoliberal ideology holds that the so-called free market should be allowed to work its magic. Through the benign sanctions of the “invisible hand,” it is said, the economy will function most efficiently and will be highly productive. But in order for the market to be “free” governments must stop interfering.

This is just one in a long list of examples that can be cited of how international organizations have messed up when it comes to third-world countries, waving the banner of free-market capitalism to advocate short-sighted and harmful policies. It makes me rather cynical, especially when I read about economists like Jeffrey Sachs (whose advocation of shock-therapy privatization led to such harm in Russia, not to mention prolonging the East Asian crisis). In the case of Sachs, he'd been advocating his flawed policies for decades, and that it took him this long to realize that perhaps there was something wrong with his theory, that most other economists like him still haven't realized this, is rather sobering. What makes the situation unintentionally ironic is that, in this article, (the new! reformed!) Sachs is using Malawi as the support for one of his arguments, when the only way Malawi was able to make such drastic improvements was by ignoring everything that experts like him, from atop their Ivory Towers and their positions in the World Bank and the IMF, were advocating. Not to mention, some of the policies he now advocates are just as, ahem, reality-challenged as those he used to, just in a different Bono-endorsed way. And this seems to be an endemic failing of many economists, how convinced they are of the rightness of their simplistic Friedman-style models, that yes, do work sometimes, but only in limited real-world situations, and failing to acknowledge these limitations can result in wide-scale damage.

Now, to address what Professor Bhagwati says in the same article, about what's required to deal with the food crisis:
"For the long term, the measures to moderate the prices of foodgrains will require attention to at least three policies where we will have to rethink matters: (1) a moderation of the planned reliance on biofuels and turning to nuclear energy instead; (2) the acceptance of genetically modified foods which promise to continue the green revolution in the modern age; and (3) the shift in governmental investment priorities to agriculture."

I don't exactly disagree with (1), in that I do think planned reliance on biofuels is a mistake, but I think he's missing the larger picture here. He's doing what politicians and economists generally do, assuming that the problem is the type of energy we consume, when the real problem is the amount, that what we have to do is find ways to cut back.

As to (2) - ohboy, where to start? The assumption that the "Green Revolution" (I hate this name) was a great thing, which is problematic for some of the reasons I talked about here, but most importantly this. Using synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is probably the linchpin of the green revolution, the reason that it became so successful, for such fertilizers were able to dramatically increase yields. Now, forget for a moment that their use reduces the nutritional value of the foods, results in long-term degradation of the soil, and that their runoff bleeds into rivers and creates dead zones. Even without this, the statement that Bhagwati made would still be tremendously dumb, because synthetic fertilizers require fossil fuels to make. So when someone so unthinkingly promotes the policies of the Green Revolution, what they are promoting is the substitution of fossil fuel energy for solar energy, a renewable resource that we don't have to worry about for at least a few million (billion?) years, and just looking at the sky-high oil prices today reveals the folly of doing so.

And um. Genetically modified foods are going to be the magic bullet that solves everything? Because we all know how safe such foods are and how solid the science underlying them is? Because they're magically going to create farmlands out of desert or ocean or land depleted by Green Revolution farming methods or perhaps yield a beanstalk so high that we can climb it into the land of never-ending Cargill-endorsed fertility?

Also, (3), while I can't speak for India or other countries, the government in the US already invests billions of dollars into agriculture. It's just investing in the wrong things, providing incentives not for sustainable small-scale farms but the chemical-rich pesticide-rich large-scale farms that've brought us to the impasse that we're in today.

Andd, I'm running out of time. More on this issue later.

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Why Bother?
A NYTimes essay by Michael Pollan that asks why, amidst so much conflicting information, we should bother changing our habits to become more enivornmentally-friendly, especially when the problem is so large and individual changes make a marginal at best difference. I really liked his argument on why those changes are worth making, but like I said on the pollaneque comm, I hated the way it was framed, setting up the socially-responsible US citizen against his evil Chinese twin counterpart who's busy buying fuel-inefficient cars, when the evil Chinese twin leaves half the carbon footprint that the average US citizen does. Way to deny national guilt right there.

how we're wrecking our feet with every step we take
A NY Magazine article on why shoes are bad for our feet that I found eye-opening.

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Unhappy Meals

A (quite long) NYT article on food & nutrition & American culture (and why it sucks when it comes to this stuff). My favorite part came about 2/3rds of the way down, when the author characterized eating as a relationship among species in the food chain. I'd never quite thought of it that way before, but it makes sense.

Excerpt:

“Health” is, among other things, the byproduct of being involved in these sorts of relationships in a food chain — involved in a great many of them, in the case of an omnivorous creature like us. Further, when the health of one link of the food chain is disturbed, it can affect all the creatures in it. When the soil is sick or in some way deficient, so will be the grasses that grow in that soil and the cattle that eat the grasses and the people who drink the milk. Or, as the English agronomist Sir Albert Howard put it in 1945 in “The Soil and Health” (a founding text of organic agriculture), we would do well to regard “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.” Our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.

In many cases, long familiarity between foods and their eaters leads to elaborate systems of communications up and down the food chain, so that a creature’s senses come to recognize foods as suitable by taste and smell and color, and our bodies learn what to do with these foods after they pass the test of the senses, producing in anticipation the chemicals necessary to break them down. Health depends on knowing how to read these biological signals: this smells spoiled; this looks ripe; that’s one good-looking cow. This is easier to do when a creature has long experience of a food, and much harder when a food has been designed expressly to deceive its senses — with artificial flavors, say, or synthetic sweeteners.

Note that these ecological relationships are between eaters and whole foods, not nutrients. Even though the foods in question eventually get broken down in our bodies into simple nutrients, as corn is reduced to simple sugars, the qualities of the whole food are not unimportant — they govern such things as the speed at which the sugars will be released and absorbed, which we’re coming to see as critical to insulin metabolism. Put another way, our bodies have a longstanding and sustainable relationship to corn that we do not have to high-fructose corn syrup. Such a relationship with corn syrup might develop someday (as people evolve superhuman insulin systems to cope with regular floods of fructose and glucose), but for now the relationship leads to ill health because our bodies don’t know how to handle these biological novelties. In much the same way, human bodies that can cope with chewing coca leaves — a longstanding relationship between native people and the coca plant in South America — cannot cope with cocaine or crack, even though the same “active ingredients” are present in all three. Reductionism as a way of understanding food or drugs may be harmless, even necessary, but reductionism in practice can lead to problems.
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I've been absently following the debates over the new farm bill. An article I found interesting:

in the fight over farm aid, this is the front line

"Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from the big-farming territory of western Minnesota, is pushing a farm bill that continues big crop subsidies, while Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from western Wisconsin, is leading a revolt to focus the farm bill more on topics like clean water, nutrition and global trade.

"A lot of my colleagues in Congress are connecting the dots' between corn subsidies, obesity, and the use of cheap sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, Kind said. 'Is it any wonder we have a Type 2 diabetes epidemic in this country?'

"Thus far, Kind's reformers have only slightly budged the farm lobby. The Agriculture Committee reluctantly voted to cap subsidies - but only to farmers earning $1 million a year ($2 million for married couples). It extended a welcome mat to organic farmers. And it promised to be fairer to vegetable and fruit growers."

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he only saved a billion people

An article that uses Borlaug's (the man behind the green revolution) relative anonymity to argue about how shallow our culture has become. It's - hm. I don't disagree with its main point - our culture is shallow - but dude, Borlaug (and by extension the methods he champions) has also done a lot of harm, and portraying him in such an unqualified positive light is a bit disingenious.

Parts like:

Borlaug scoffs at the mania for organic food, which he proves with calm logic is unsuited to fight global hunger.

um, what? Where is the so-called calm logic? I need more than a claim that cow dung is an inefficient source of nitrogen, especially when weighed against studies like these which prove that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as the methods championed by Borlaug and the big agribusinesses.


There's "no evidence the food is any different than that produced by chemical fertilizer."

Some of the major drawbacks of using chemical fertilizers. There are tons of links about this on the internet.

Even if the above wasn't true, eating organic isn't just about avoiding foods that have been grown using chemical fertilizers, it's also about avoiding foods that have been genetically modified and use pesticides. How is addressing only one of these issues a refutation against the practice?

Another point to note - there has been controversy over the claim that this entire article is based on, that the Green Revolution saved the lives of a billion people. According to the wikipedia article:

Increasing food production however is not synonymous with increasing food security, and is only part of a larger equation. For example, Amartya Sen’s work has found that large historic famines have not been caused by decreases in food supply, but by socioeconomic dynamics and a failure of public action. [21] There are several claims about how the Green Revolution may have decreased food security for some people. One such claim involves the shift of subsistence-oriented cropland to cropland oriented towards production of grain for export and/or animal feed. For example, the Green Revolution replaced much of the land used for pulses that fed Indian peasants for wheat, which did not make up a large portion of the peasant diet.[22] Also, the pesticides involved in rice production eliminated fish and weedy green vegetables from the diets of Asian rice farmers.

Add to this what I talked about before, that organic farming yields several times more than conventional farming in third-world countries. Also, there is the question of whether the increased food production from conventional farming practices is sustainable, for the use of chemical fertilizers in the long run depletes chemicals from the soil, the use of pesticides in the long run creates weeds and insects that are pesticide-resistant, and the mass farming of only a few crops leaves the population as a whole more vulnerable to famine. And we're not even getting to the issue of the severe health effects of being exposed to pesticides, the hundreds of thousands of people that have died as a result of accidents in plants that create such things, that the safety of genetically modified foods are based on a theory that has been scientifically proven as false, etcetc.

That the author of this article did not bother to do any research, and just took Borlaug's word on this and other issues, is something I find very sloppy, turning what could have been an interesting, informed article into a misleading PR piece.

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I wish that proponents of the Iraqi war, and those who believe that we should stay there, would bother sometimes to find out what the Iraqis think - they ignore that question as if it doesn't matter that the majority of Iraqis want the puppet government to fall and the US troops out.

Riverbend
My favorite Iraqi blog, although it's been some time since it was updated. Here's what she has to say on the issue:

And yet, as the situation continues to deteriorate both for Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq, and for Americans inside Iraq, Americans in America are still debating on the state of the war and occupation- are they winning or losing? Is it better or worse.

Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.


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site links:

organic consumers association
This site links to a lot of interesting news articles.

local harvest
If you live in the US, this is a great site to find farms & farmer's markets near your area.

sustainable agriculture listserv
Still checking this out.

articles:

china not only worry on imported food
About the dangers of a centralized & international food supply. Only 1% of the food imported here is inspected by the FDA, and in the past they've found things like Mexican cantaloupe irrigated with water from sewage-tainted rivers & candy laced with lead.

bylaws to curtail pesticide use in Canada
This was rather scary. Apparently pesticides can lead to severe cases of rash, cancer, such horrific cases of diarrhea that you lose control of your sphincter muscles.

gene theory flawed
A New York times article that describes how genetically engineered foods can be much more dangerous than previously assumed. The biotech industry is based on the idea that the human genome is a collection of independent genes with each sequence linked to a single function. However, research shows that genes operate in a complex network, so the gene that makes tomatoes redder could also presumably produce intestine-eating toxins, and scientists probably wouldn't know until enough intestines have been eaten that the link is clear.

Welcome to Richistan, USA
There is something very wrong with our country if someone like Warren Buffet pays 17% tax and his secretary pays 30%.

how high fructose corn syrup damages your body
"I am HIGHLY confident that the health improvement [from giving up soft drinks] would be FAR more profound than if everyone stopped smoking because elevated insulin levels are the foundation of nearly every chronic disease known to man, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, aging, arthritis, osteoporosis, you name it, and you will find elevated insulin levels as a primary factor."

the obesity epidemic
An interview with Dr Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California, on how food manufacturers by adding fructose to our foods, are making the obesity epidemic worse. One fact I found surprising: "In fact fructose, because of the way it's metabolised, is actually damaging your liver the same way alcohol is. In fact it's the exact same pathway, in fact fructose is alcohol without the buzz."

reasons to buy organic
Some reasons that I'd never thought of or known of. An example - "Done properly, organic farming builds up healthy soil through moisture retention, composting, crop diversity and fostering of beneficial organisms. It takes soil so long to form that most scientists essentially consider it a nonrenewable resource, and enormous amounts are lost through erosion, chemical inundation and overly intensive commercial agriculture. Check out a satellite image of the gigantic plume of brown at the mouth of the Mississippi River to get a visual sense of what the next generations are losing to poor management."

FDA moves to stop requiring labels on irradiated foods
This was so depressing. Another example of how the government is so completely controlled by the big agribusiness companies.

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As far as I can determine, conservatism has two main supporters - religious conservatives and those that are against so-called big government (I say so-called because government spending has grown considerably during the Bush administration, and yet as far as I can tell these conservatives still support the administration and the party). What’s not readily apparent at first glance, however, is that the trade-off being supported is of the private versus the public sector, of corporations making their own rules and the governments accomodating them.

Conservatives say that governments are too inefficient and wasteful, and point to corporations as models of efficiency. I agree with them on the problem - our government, today, is inefficient and wasteful - but disagree with how to fix it. Governments are only as good as the people they govern, and together we can fire corrupt and morally bankrupt politicians simply by refusing to re-elect them. I think that the citizens of this country should be made more aware so that they can elect good representatives. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to prefer getting rid of the government altogether, or squeezing it into as small a shape as possible. But, as I said before, I don’t think the trade-off here is of government control versus freedom, but rather of the rule of the majority, which is what governments are supposed to represent (I say supposed to because the recent administration so obviously doesn’t, always putting corporate interests above those of the public) versus the rule of the rich, which is the class that rules corporations.

When the Bush administration cuts taxes that corporations have to pay and supports those tax cuts with cuts in public sector programs such as those that support health care and education, it promotes the growth of corporations at the expense of the public sector, a move that bears all the hallmarks of Reaganomics. And it’s surprising to me that people still think of Reagonomics as a viable economic theory, when any rational look at the data, and just plain common sense, would indicate that wealth does not trickle down but tends to accumulate at the top. Money is spent by the poor; by the rich it is horded.

There’s the sense - mainly among conservatives but also, I think, among some ordinary Americans - that corporations are what’s responsible for the progress that our country has made. But this ignores the fact that corporations are a relatively new phenomenon (they arose after the Civil War, and they made up a relatively small part of the economy until after WWII) and also that today, what corporations are about isn’t making things as much as branding things. This is why labels are so ubiquitous, why advertising contracts run to millions of dollars. The major retail corporations don’t even make their own clothes, outsourcing that to contractors who hire the poorest in third-world countries to work in often-abominable conditions. Increasingly, what corporations are about is selling an image, an idea, that often runs contrary to reality. For the most part, they are becoming nothing more than glorified PR machines. Also, at times it would seem that they would do everything they can to halt progress. Witness the lobbying that automobile companies do, as just one example. Almost everyone agrees that in the future we will need to drive more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly cars. Yet the automotive industry of this country has done very little to make these cars, despite the demand for them as witnessed by the popularity of Japanese hybrids (and once when they did make an electric car they wasted no time pulling the plug, and oil companies bought the patents for electric batteries so they could never be used again), and has instead done all it could to make sure that it will never have to change its practices to be more environmentally friendly. Corporations do not seem to stand for progress but against it, to stand instead for maintaining the status quo.

I can’t count the number of plugs I’ve heard for corporations by the news anchors on channels such as CNBC and CNN (for obvious reasons, I tend to avoid Fox). They claim that pro-corporation policies are essential because they promote economic growth. (It used to be promote employment growth, but they obviously can’t use that slogan anymore after all the layoffs.) And I don’t see the evidence for this. The stock market is rising, but so is the cost of living, so is the price of gas and food, rent, college educations, all the while our currency is falling against that of every other country’s. There is such a huge disconnect between what I hear and what I see, and increasingly I’ve come to think that what’s good for corporations is terrible for the country, for the poor and middle class that live here, that the rising profits are coming at their expense - they are the ones that were laid off, that are being made to work longer hours for less pay. There are now 37 million people living below the poverty line, 5 million more than when Bush came into power, and they have fewer chances of getting themselves out of poverty than in years before, with declining standards of health care and education. And there are also the increasingly lax environmental regulations - properly regulating our food and air and water so that public health is not harmed might hurt a corporation’s profits, and so the Bush administration doesn’t.

As to corporations being models of efficiency, I think a better characterization for them would be that of externalizing machines. Externalities are whenever two parties carry out a transaction and a third uninvolved party has to bear some of its cost. The taxpayers are this third uninvolved party - we’re the ones that pay for the troops to secure Iraq’s oil fields, we’re the ones that bear the costs of pollution. And we have so little say in a corporation’s practices. We can’t fire the retail company CEOs that use sweatshop labor, or the oil company CEOs that are responsible for environmentally destructive practices, or that prop up repressive governments, as in the case of the Shell company (eight environmentalists that protested the activities of the Shell Company in Nigeria were hanged).

Instead of being held accountable and punished for these actions, CEOs that do these things are instead rewarded, with increasingly ludicruous pay packages granted by the boards of directors. It is not the ordinary shareholder that is benefitting from increased corporate profits as much as it is the people already in power - they would prefer to keep the money to themselves, thank you very much. Also, there was an article I read recently that said that CEO pay can be correlated to the number of layoffs performed - the more layoffs the higher the pay. So how is it, exactly, that what’s good for corporations is good for this country as a whole?

Corporations aren’t moral and cannot be held easily accountable for the public good, and it’s surprising to me how much people don’t get this. They exist for one reason, to maximize profits, and they will do this at the expense of anything. In the corporate mindset everything comes down to a cost/benefit analysis in which even things like a person’s health and life have a price, and that is the main reason why I find using corporations as the ideal governing model so laughably absurd, and why I disagree with conservatives who point to corporations as everything that’s right in our society.

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I'm in the middle of reading The Lucifer Effect, which details the Stanford Prison Experiment carried out in the 70s, where volunteers were randomly assigned to serve as either prisoners or guards. ("The question there was," he says, "what happens when you put good people in an evil place? We put good, ordinary college students in a very realistic, prison-like setting in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford. We dehumanized the prisoners, gave them numbers, and took away their identity. We also deindividuated the guards... translated the anonymity of Lord of the Flies into a setting where we could observe exactly what happened from moment to moment.")

The experiment was planned and executed by Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist in Stanford University. He wanted to prove that good & evil were situational rather than intrinsic attributes, that under the right external conditions everyone was capable of both the most compassionate & most brutal acts. (I began to investigate what specific kinds of situational variables or processes could make someone step across that line between good and evil. We all like to think that the line is impermeable—that people who do terrible things like commit murder, treason, or kidnapping are on the other side of the line—and we could never get over there. We want to believe that we're with the good people. My work began by saying, no, that line is permeable. The reason some people are on the good side of the line is that they've never really been tested. They've never really been put in unusual circumstances where they were tempted or seduced across that line.)

Reading the book, what I was most horrified by weren't the things the guards did to the prisoners, but that the experiment was allowed to go on as long as it did, that Zimbardo knew everything that was going on as it was going on, and yet for five days he did nothing to stop the escalating cycle of degradation the prisoners were subjected to, and probably wouldn't have stopped it when he did if his girlfriend hadn't visited and been completely appalled by what she saw.

As he said himself: "There are stunning parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment and what happened at Abu Ghraib, where some of the visual scenes that we have seen include guards stripping prisoners naked, putting bags over heads, putting them in chains, and having them engage in sexually degrading acts." These things and more also happened in the Stanford Prison Experiments, and he not only created the conditions that allowed them to happen but was right there when they were happening. He was the ultimate authority there, he was the one who set the rules, and not only that, but he had studied situations like this, knew more than anyone else the psychology of it, and yet he was more concerned with science than the human beings that were abused right in front of him, more concerned with proving his theories than the degrading, dehumanizing acts that were being carried out that allowed him to do so, and it's just. Why wasn't he punished? Why hasn't he faced any consequences for this, any lawsuits, being disbarred from the American Psychological Association, anything? Instead he seems to have benefitted, becoming president of the APA, one of the most well-known and respected researchers in the field.

It does not surprise me that the guards did what they did, because even before reading the book I agreed with the thesis. But it shocks me that, as their teacher, as the one person who should have known better, Zimbardo not only allowed but also implicitly approved of all the actions of the prison guards. And now he is speaking out against the current administration about what happened in Abu Ghraib, saying that it is more their fault for creating an environment that allowed the abuses to occur, for implicitly condoning those abuses, that they should be on trial and face the consequences of what they did. And I agree with this analysis, but. What about him? What consequences has he ever faced? And he was right there, instead of thousands of miles away, and morever, as a psychologist and someone who had studied this he should have known better.

That's the one thing that I can't let go. It wasn't an esoteric moral debate, the question of good and evil, right and wrong. It was something that he'd spent his life studying, and he still completely failed the test, and instead of being punished was rewarded for his failure and is now going around lecturing others about what they should or shouldn't have done, which strikes me as despicably hypocritical.

And, even today, Zimbardo defends his experiment, the lengths he let it go to, by saying the benefits gained about our understanding of human behaviour and how we can improve society should out balance the distress caused by the study. So, it's not just okay to cause the harm and degradation to another person, but it's actual a noble, worthwhile endeavor that will benefit all of society. Which brings up the question, why stop the experiments at all? He should've let them continue for weeks, months, so we could fully explore all the depths that humans can sink to. It's okay as long as it's for the greater good of society, right?

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poli sci links pages:

http://www.rvc.cc.il.us/faclink/pruckman/PSLinks.htm
http://www.polsci.wvu.edu/polycy
http://www.etown.edu/vl/
http://www.emory.edu/SOC/globalization/

Taking Sides: Clashing Views in World Politics

I got this book because I wanted to learn more about public policy, and this was one of the books the library had on the subject. I wouldn't recommend it, though. I liked the introduction, but not the essays, which seemed rather insubstantial. (Though some did have great quotes, like the following from Mahatma Gandhi on cultural diversity: "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.")

Below are my notes on the book.

Read more... )
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Starting out with The Daily Show footage:

NSA Scandal
On the NSA assembling a database on ALL domestic calls.

Annual GOP BBQ and Nude Cub Scout Wrestle
The Mark Foley scandal. (And also this, and this, and this.)

Inconvenient Politically Timed Scandals
On the Republican response to the numerous scandals coming out.

Bush takes questions from an unscripted audience
*SHOCKU*

Now, to get more serious, news on Iraq:

650,000 Iraqi civilian war deaths? Bush doesn't buy it.
If Bush doesn't buy it, it can't be true. Right?

President Bush divorced from reality in Iraq
A view from a reporter who's on the ground.

the study referred to above
Where the 600,000 Iraqi dead number came from.

While all eyes are on Foley, Iraq is rapidly deteriorating.
I got chills watching this. The situation there is so horrible, and the people in power are either completely blind or just don't care, as long as they can supress or spin the facts so it doesn't hurt come election time.

state dept poll: 60% of iraqis favor attacks on US forces
61% of Iraqis approve of attacks on US forces. 78% said US military presence is not a stabalizing force.

And, another piece of news that got shoved aside for Mark Foley:

on the military commissions act, which does away with the habeas corpus and the geneva conventions
"We face a government more dangerous to our liberty than is the enemy it claims to protect us from."


A couple of users whose videos I found worth checking out:

thesilentpatriot
harvesteroftruth

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While trying to find more information on Venezuela and president Hugo Chavez, I stumbled across the Venezuela analysis website, and one of the articles there reminded me of a quote from the power of nightmares documentary - that in the political environment today, the person with the most vivid imagination becomes the most powerful, because the sense of disbelief has vanished.

My favorite part: A couple of years ago, for example, senior U.S. Army analyst Graham Turbiville pointed to the purchase of 30,000 ski masks by a Ciudad del Este Lebanese businessman as evidence that terrorism was flourishing in the region. The transaction, he said, "raised many questions" -- one of which was whether Turbiville was even aware that some of the world's best skiing takes place in the nearby Andes.

Ridiculous much?
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