Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Do We Ask Who's Worse? They're All Hopeless!

Is Obama Worse Than Bush? That's Beside the Point
By Gary Younge / June 21, 2013

Obama's transformation from national security dove to hawk is the norm: any president is captive to America's imperial power
Not long after the story into the National Security Administration's spying program broke, US president Barack Obama insisted the issues raised were worthy of discussion:

"I welcome this debate and I think it's healthy for our democracy. I think it's a sign of maturity because probably five years ago, six years ago we might not have been having this debate."
In fairly short order, a YouTube compilation appeared, showing Obama debating with himself as he matured. Flitting back and forth between Obama the candidate and Obama the president, we see the constitutional law professor of yore engage with the commander-in-chief of today. Referring to the Bush White House, candidate Obama says:

"This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not."
Referring to the NSA surveillance program, President Obama says:
"My assessment and my team's assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks."
Candidate Obama says of the Bush years:
"This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide."
President Obama retorts:
"You can't have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. We're going to have to make some choices."
The notion that a president's record might contradict a presidential candidate's promise is neither new nor particular to Obama. And we should hope that politicians evolve as their careers progress and new evidence and arguments come to light.

What makes these clips so compelling is that they show not evolution, but transformation. On this issue, at least, Obama has become the very thing he was against. They're not gaffes. These are brazenly ostentatious flip-flops. And regardless of how much they cost him, Obama has clearly no intention of taking them back.

Given that he is not only defending but escalating the very things he criticized the Bush administration for, the accusation that many have made that he is "worse than Bush" on this issue, and others relating to privacy, security and drone attacks, is not unreasonable. Obama's administration has denied more Freedom of Information Act requests than Bush did, and prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined.

But the charge also misses the point.

It should go without saying that Obama the individual is responsible for all that he says and does. It should also go without saying that once he ascends to the Oval office he is no longer simply talking for himself, but, as commander-in-chief, for the state of which he is the head.

Just as one head of a Chamber of Commerce may be more or less hostile than another to the labor movement, but is ultimately charged with representing the interests of the business community, so Obama's room for maneuver is constrained by the institutions in which he is now embedded.

Whereas Bush illegally invaded a nation with great fanfare, Obama has chosen to bump people off with great stealth (unless it's Bin Laden, in which case he metaphorically parades around with a head on a pike). Those are different strategies, but the discussion about which is better or worse is sterile precisely because neither is good and neither works. Whatever their declared intentions, both involve the murder of civilians and the creation of enemies, which in turn demand a clandestine security structure that seeks to pre-empt the metastasizing resistance to its policies both at home and abroad. The sprawling growth of its spying program is commensurate with the size of its military and the spread of its incursions into countries like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan where it is not formally at war.

As I wrote the day before Obama's first inauguration:

"He has been elected to represent the interests of the most powerful country in the world. Those will not be the same interests as those of the powerless."
America did not come by that power through its own innate genius. It acquired it, as do all empires, in no small part through war, invasion, subterfuge and exploitation. Spying and lying about it comes with the job description for which Obama applied and was reappointed.

None of this is inevitable. But changing it cannot be entrusted to a single person at the top. It will change because there is a demand from Americans that is both large in number, deep in commitment and active in pursuit, to enable a fundamental change in America's role in the world. That does not exist yet.

Where Obama is concerned, this excuses nothing – but explains a great deal. Given the timidity of his campaign agenda, his supporters must, to some extent, own their disappointment. He never said he was a radical, nor proposed anything radical, even if he was happy at one time to be marketed as one.

Given that he kept on Bush's defence secretary and appointed an economic team friendlier to Wall Street than the poor, we should not be too shocked about these continuities. But there are some things he did promise to do – and was twice elected with a massive mandate to do them. Protecting civil liberties was one of them.

When given the choice of representing the interests of those who voted for him and the interests of American military and economic hegemony, he chose the latter. That's not the change people believed in.

© 2013 Guardian/UK

[Gary Younge is a Guardian columnist and feature writer based in the US.]

Source / The Guardian

Fluxed Up World

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Don't Believe Monsanto's Myth-Making

Marching against Monsanto in San Francisco. Photo: Steve Rhodes.

Hey, Non-GMO Activist: Monsanto's CEO Thinks You're an Elitist
By Anna Lappé / June 11, 2013

On May 25, 2013, tens of thousands of people in 36 countries participated in a global "March Against Monsanto." But according to Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, those who protest against agricultural genetic engineering -- including the farmers, students, academics, and more who turned out in March -- are "elitists," fomenting distrust of technology that could save the lives of millions of hungry people.

For years, industry leaders like Monsanto have been pushing this myth. At a biotechnology industry trade conference I attended in 2005, one participant even claimed that those fighting against GMOs "should be tried for crimes against humanity." A charge, I tend to think, usually reserved for serious attacks on human rights.

This particular mythmaking is a powerful PR tactic. Who among us wants to feel that our attitude toward a technology could be causing hunger here or abroad? Or, worse, that our opposition to Monsanto could be putting us among the ranks of Yugoslavia's Miloševi? or Guatemala's Rios Montt? Not me.

In his recent interview with Bloomberg News, Grant was hyping this myth again, claiming challengers of genetically engineered foods, "are guilty of elitism." (An interesting choice of words for someone who pulled in $12.84 million last year -- and averaged $26.3 million in annual earnings over the past six years, according to Forbes.)

Grant says critics of GMOs, "fail to consider the needs of the rest of the world."

Is he right?

We have nearly 20 years of commercialized GMO use under our belt. We can learn a lot from this global experiment. What we know is that not only do GMOs fail to address the roots of hunger, but the technology can also actually worsen hunger as it maintains and, in some cases, worsens, farmers' dependency on costly seeds, chemicals, and fertilizer -- all at volatile and rising prices.

Today nearly 870 million people on the planet suffer from extreme, long-term undernourishment, according to the United Nations, and nearly as many are overfed, consuming too many of the wrong calories. These twin crises have many root causes, including poverty, inequality, and a lack of choice over how food is grown, where it's grown, and who has access to it -- a deficit of democracy. A technology like genetic engineering, which has been developed and is controlled by a handful of companies, does nothing to transform this dynamic. Indeed, the technology serves to further concentrate power over our food system: An estimated 90 percent of U.S.-grown soybeans and 80 percent of corn and cotton crops are grown from Monsanto's seeds.

While biotech proponents love to talk about the promise of drought-resistant, nitrogen-efficient, and nutritionally enhanced varieties, to date, commercialized genetically engineered crop varieties have been mostly limited to two types: those developed to resist a proprietary herbicide, and those engineered to produce a specific insecticide. This comes as no surprise, since the technology creation is led by chemical companies, like Monsanto, Dupont, and Dow.

Genetic engineering techniques have also been commercialized for only a handful of crops: mainly corn, soy, canola, cotton, and sugar beets. These are not foods to nourish the world. They're commodities that mostly end up in the gut of a cow, the tank of a car, or the ingredients list of processed foods.

GMOs are also only being grown in a handful of countries. Ninety-one percent of GMOs worldwide are planted in just five countries: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India. In most of the other 23 countries with commercialized GMOs, the crops are growing on a negligible number of acres.

Moreover, the technology does not help the lion's share of those who are hungry: small-scale farmers in the developing world. Why not? Because adopting GMOs makes cash-poor farmers dependent on buying seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals that provide uneven yields, foster weeds resistant to pesticides, undermine soil health, and reduce biodiversity. Plus, planting monocrops -- whether the seeds are heirloom varieties, hybrids, or genetically engineered -- means smallholders have all their eggs in one basket, leaving them vulnerable to catastrophic weather events or global price swings.

Research is showing that "agroecological" methods -- the ones that use on-farm soil fertility, natural methods for pest and weed control, and locally adapted crop varieties--can outperform GMOs, especially during drought years. These methods also improve the nutritional value of crops, benefit biodiversity and soil health, and reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, these techniques can increase farmers' incomes (in large part because their input costs go way down), freeing them from debt and dependency. In fact, small-scale farmers around the world adopting and spreading agroecological practices are getting excellent results and, not coincidentally, are increasingly vocal critics of genetic engineering.

I wonder what the small-scale farmers I've interviewed around the world who oppose GMOs -- from the foothills of the Himalayas to the plains of Brazil -- would think of Grant's comments? They might just find it odd that they'd be considered "elitists."

[Anna is the author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Hope’s Edge. She is a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute.]

Source / Common Dreams

Fluxed Up World

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Think You're Not a Racist? A Sexist? Think Again ...

Source / YouTube

Thanks to Bix Burkhart / Fluxed Up World

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