Monsanto and India: distinguishing between stakes and culpability

We conclude our Monsanto series with a final blog on the multi-national’s effects in India. Especially with Prince Charles having drawn attention to the crisis as early as 2008, much controversy and accusation has been thrown around by both the company and organic enthusiasts. The controversy in a nutshell could be frased as, “which factors precisely are to blame for the suicide rate increase in India?” As muddled as things have been, it becomes necessary to clarify as much as possible.

      • Multiple factors likely at play in suicide rate and farming failures

        Studies have sourced draughts, untimely rains, rural poverty, and others say that Monsanto is the principal culprit. All of the former factors undoubtedly have a direct and profound, negative impact on farmer suicide rates as well as the impoverishment of the farmers in a more general, yet still very grave sense. It’s difficult to quantify, let alone pinpoint, the source of the farming suicide rates, yet it remains safe to say the Monsanto GE product has only significantly agitated the case.

      • Monsanto’s product hardly “magic”

        Monsanto promised India a biotech cotton product that would be nothing short of “magic.” What Indian farmers got didn’t even live up to being “pest-proof” as promised. To the extent to which this directly caused how many farmers to take their own lives is difficult to determine; what can be established, however, is that Monsanto has followed its own footsteps in a long history of choosing the betterment of its name and bottom line over the livelihood of its clients or those befallen to the consequences of the company’s decisions. Such fantastical promises worked out better for Monsanto’s strategy than the success of the farmers.

      • Farmer suicides is not the sole issue

        Indian farmers are forced to pay 1,000 percent more for genetically engineered (GE) seeds. Additionally, whereas with organic seeds Indian farmers even after a season with little to no product can still salvage the seed for sewing next season’s crop, the Monsanto seed is genetically engineered to yield a seedless crop, leaving the farmer with no choice but to buy additional seed. Antagonizing the draught issue, Monsanto crops require twice as much water as the traditional product. With the government having aggressively pressured Indian farmers over the last decade to convert to the Monsanto seed, the farmer has found himself in a debt trap, unable to benefit from India’s Green Revolution.

Finally, it should be noted that the Monsanto clients in India are not the only ones being affected. Early this year, Dr. Vandana Shiva controversially tweeted the genetically modified organism imposition in India to rape. Sayer Ji clarifies and defends Dr. Shiva’s claim by noting that

… many GMO crops are wind and insect pollinated, their pollen (and the transgenes they carry) easily evade containment and are capable of traveling great distances. For instance, if pollen from genetically modified corn reaches a receptive non-GMO corn plant, transgenes will be forcibly integrated (through sexual reproduction) into the germline of their offspring, rendering them and all their future offspring permanently GMO. This could therefore be defined as a form of ‘bio-rape.’

As the product pollinates and yields a crop carrying the transgene to the unknowing, faultless farmer, he then becomes liable to Monsanto as using their patented product outside of contract. Just as the culpability for farmer suicide rate increases in India may not be Monsanto’s sole responsibility, the consequences are not limited to Monsanto farmer suicides or even Monsanto farmers themselves.

PCBs and Monsanto’s marred reputation

On the Health Regulation page, publishing soon at  www.internationalcomparisons.org as we announced last week, we will include in the statistic table each country’s policy on  polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The United States, most of the world, and all other advanced democracies have banned PCBs. Still, PCBs are noteworthy and relevant to our research to the extent that it’s a great introduction to Monsanto’s lack of business and political ethics. After reviewing the information, below, we understand better why the precautionary principle is absolutely irrelevant in U.S. health regulation policy.

  • Monsanto deliberately hid, tampered with, and denied scientific evidence of PCBs’ hazardous properties up to and beyond its U.S. ban in 1977

    As meticulously outlined by foxriverwatch.com, Monsanto has a prolific history of publicly denying knowledge of the damage caused by PCBs (as they did in 197019731974, 1979, 1993), or altering scientific reports (as they did in 1949, 1969–a critical year: see also the Planet Waves report as well as The Nation report–, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1990) despite privately receiving from others and making their own warnings concerning its harm (as they did in 1937, 1938, 1951, 1956, 1959, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1979, 1980, ).

  • Monsanto neglects safety as its own responsibility and places it on government regulation

    Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.

    -Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications

    In fact, in several instances Monsanto has rewarded employees who have intentionally bucked and stalled the government’s ability to regulate.

  • Monsanto sticks close to the federal government not only by an intimate and thorough lobbying campaign, but also by its revolving door relationship between top-tiered company positions and presidentially appointed offices in the EPA, FDA, USAID, and USDA (Obama’s no exception)

    NAME

    MONSANTO JOB

    GOVERNMENT JOB

    ADMIN

    Toby Moffett Monsanto Consultant US Congessman D-CT
    Dennis DeConcini Monsanto
    Legal Counsel
    US Senator D-AZ
    Margaret Miller Chemical Lab Supervisor Dep. Dir. FDA,
    HFS
    Bush Sr,
    Clinton
    Marcia Hale Director, Int’l
    Govt. Affairs
    White House
    Senior Staff
    Clinton
    Mickey Kantor Board Member Sec. of Commerce Clinton
    Virginia Weldon VP, Public Policy WH-Appt to CSA, Gore’s SDR Clinton
    Josh King Director, Int’l
    Govt. Affairs
    White House Communications Clinton
    David Beler VP, Gov’t & Public Affairs Gore’s Chief Dom.
    Polcy Advisor
    Clinton
    Carol Tucker-Foreman Monsanto Lobbyist WH-Appointed Consumer Adv Clinton
    Linda Fisher VP, Gov’t & Public Affairs Deputy Admin
    EPA
    Clinton,
    Bush
    Lidia Watrud Manager, New Technologies USDA, EPA Clinton,
    Bush, Obama
    Michael Taylor VP, Public Policy Dep. Commiss. FDA Obama
    Hilary Clinton Rose Law Firm, Monsanto Counsel US Senator,
    Secretary of State
    D-NY
    Obama
    Roger Beachy Director, Monsanto Danforth Center Director USDA NIFA Obama
    Islam Siddiqui Monsanto Lobbyist Ag Negotiator
    Trade Rep
    Obama

    Source: http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/

    This list is nothing new, as some reports exposed the relationship fifteen years ago.

    Such relations also have pertinent implications in explaining such issues like why Monsanto has gotten away without charges from the EPA during a fraudulent investigation in the early 1990’s.

Italian and French policy values heritage over Monsanto

Yesterday, Italy (from where itnernationalcomparisons.com will conduct its research and reporting starting in October) set a valuable precedent in the world’s fight for an autonomous food system, the EU’s battle against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and a country’s fight to maintain original taste and quality in its produce.

The protection of Italian distinctiveness must be a policy priority since it determines the existence of ‘Made in Italy’, which is our engine, our future, our leverage to return to growth in the food industry.           -Statement from Italian agriculture ministry

Based on this quote, an 80% public backing, and the decision by three separate governmental ministries to ban Monsanto’s MON810 maize,  the Italians resoundingly favor their own original food over Monsanto’s GM, uniform product. So the Italians are not only setting precedent in standing up against the health risks from GMOs and the corporate irresponsibility from Monsanto, but also by adding another element to the argument: pride in country*. And without the latter, the Italians see their hopes of recovery as significantly diminished. According to Italy, Monsanto’s monopoly and bland, uniform product represents such a threat.

In 2012 the French, the most prolific crop growers in all of Europe,  also banned the same product, the only GM product allowed in the EU. France also claims national heritage to be a factor in its decision in spite of the temporary hardship the French face as they transition agriculturally and economically away from MON810. From France and Italy’s perspectives, having little to do with GMOs is still too much.

Perhaps Italy and France have gleaned from the India-Monsanto relationship, which is too much to take on in the same blog. As we prepare research to be released on our new Health Regulation page coming soon, look forward to more blogs on chemical policy, the precautionary principle, and its commercial antithesis: Monsanto.

*Regardless to what extent Italy made its decision as a matter of national pride in its produce, they will need to provide a scientific basis, a “health or environmental risk,” if their position on MON810 is going to stand. France implemented its own custom ban on GMOs last year by going through the same process.

What the Snowden scenario offers us from an international affairs perspective

Edward Snowden’s pursuit for political asylum is captivating from many international affairs perspectives. One that particularly has my attention is to what extent U.S. exceptionalism will attempt to buck not only other states’ sovereignty, but also international rule of law.

Where’s Snowden? Credity: heavy.com

Indeed, this could turn out to be a fascinating showdown indicating which holds more pertinence: the cumulated efforts among international organizations, the relevance of international law, and assistance from human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International versus the once highly favored, yet still proven counterweight, U.S.

Snowden’s claiming under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that he is entitled to political asylum, and that it is the sovereignty of a host nation (in this case Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and potentially Russia) to grant him. Somebody should probably point out the irony in the United States’ prolific reluctance to sign and ratify international treaties, yet still deny rights granted in treaties that they not only signed and ratified, but its former First Lady also championed and authored.

Such duplicity is nothing new coming from the U.S., but the organization and cooperation in the international community could pose a threat that the U.S., especially given its waning clout, is not used to facing.

Norway=model; exception

In addition to already having country profile pages for Germany and Japan, we have recently just added Denmark and Norway (also accessible from our home index page under the “countries covered” listing). While putting together the Norway page, we realized even more how exemplary Norway truly is.

Norway is not a member of the European Union. Also a factor in escaping the eurozone crisis is their oil and gas industry which has them benefiting from the largest budget surplus among all advanced democracies. Norway has an unemployment rate below 3%, no net national debt, and around $640 billion dollars stored away in a sovereign wealth account, mostly from its oil and gas industry. In 2009 Norway earned the highest per capita income.

Deserving much credit for its success is Norway’s fearlessness to tax. Their prosperous oil and gas industry receives a 28% corporate tax and a 50% industry surtax. Overall tax as a share of GDP is among the highest in the OECD. Corporate taxes are four times as high as U.S. rates. Their highest income tax bracket kicks in at $124,000 at 47.8%. Yet businesses aren’t saddling up to head to places where they might save on looser tax breaks, an argument from those in the U.S. representing a vast majority who refuse to consider any tax increase. In fact, start up activity not only in Norway, but also Denmark, Switzerland, and Canada is higher than that of the U.S. From 2006-2009, the U.S. economy treaded at a practically stagnant .1% growth rate compared to Norway’s exponentially faster rate of 3%. Norway also boasts more entrepreneurs per capita than the U.S.

Part of the reason why business owners are so keen to comply without raising a stir at Norwegian taxes is the sense of appreciation they have for the system. Norwegians benefit from free education from preschool to graduate school (often including universities outside of Norway); free healthcare; generous unemployment benefits due to a competitive, employee-friendly job market; forty-six weeks of maternity leave paid in full, 10 weeks for paternal leave. Education, retirement, and medical expenses are three paramount concerns for the average U.S. citizen, but all of which are provided in Norway. There’s a sense of giving back to the system in Norway for the ways one has benefited previously from the system.

 

Adapted from“US fiscal debate could learn from Norway” by Mark Provost from Progressive Press and  “In Norway, start ups say Ja to socialism” by Max Chafkin in Inc. Magazine.

More on gun control: utilizing a healthy rationale

Moderation is key Credit: skepticink.com

As thoroughly established in last week’s blog, it’s entirely implausible to revoke all gun rights with the second amendment’s clarity in establishing the right to bear arms. Equally erroneous is the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) tirelessly obstinate refusal to consider anything resembling regulation or compromise.

Both sides need to take a break from either polarity in order to find some sort of common ground if we are to resolve anything in this controversy. Such common ground is hardly extreme. We review five “commonsense” options as provided by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Erwin Chemerinsky and Robert Steinbuch. (For an idea on how nonsensical gun laws can be here in the States, look no further than another one of our previous blogs.)

  1. Extend background check requirements: Most notably, this should include gun show sales and private sales. This loophole is too big to ignore and of which is too easy for potential criminals to take advantage.
  2. Expand the FBI’s database with more thorough information: Today, the requisite information is hardly sufficient in determining whether the consumer can be considered safe. The background checks should require more information about the individual.
  3. Reinstate liability of gunmakers: Thanks to heavy lobbying efforts from organizations like the NRA, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was passed in 2005, effectually removing any liability a gunmaker could have in a lawsuit. Gunmakers should be held responsible like producers of all other legal products.
  4. Certain weapons ban: The phrase used here by Chemerinsky and Steinbuch is “weapons that serve no other purpose than to kill a large number of the public in a short amount of time.” They also make the point that society has always been assertive in setting limits on the availability of the most dangerous weapons. It is quite reasonable to regulate such weapons without challenging the second amendment.
  5. Regulate magazine size: There have been instances in which gunmen (Cherminsky and Steinbuch cite the Long Island Railroad killer) have been stopped only when they ran out of ammunition in one magazine and needed to change to another. The application is obvious: if the magazine had less capacity, the opportunity to stop him would have come sooner and before he had the chance to kill more people. Larger magazine capacities hardly serve any other functional value.

 

 

Minority rule kills; the American gun Jihadist way of death and the long path to the recovery of the constitution

On April 17, 2013, the US Senate held a vote on the Toomey-Mancini amendment to Senate Bill 659. The amendment would require finding out if people are insane or criminals and, if so, prevent them from getting guns. The idea is supported by over 80 percent of the US population.The bill was defeated by a vote of 55 in favor and 45 against, so it failed, because the majority in the US Senate has no power. 55% loses.Since Senators represent states and not people, a small state has as many Senators as a large one. Mostly small state Senators opposed background checks, so the rule by the minority was even smaller in population terms. An analysis of the vote shows that 29.2 percent of the US population was able to prevent majority rule. (Appendix A)

American gun crime is so high that the US does not qualify as a developed democracy.

firearm homicide graph

(Appendix B)

One cause of gun death is the perversion of the Second Amendment, which is designed to promote the security needed for freedom, but has been misrepresented in order to maximize gun and bullet sales. This misrepresentation is possible because too many Americans know nothing about the issue and are easily panicked by their fears and paranoia.

Most people do not know what the Second Amendment says. It says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Those who claim to understand the Second Amendment usually do not. One side claims it allows anybody to keep and bear arms; the other side, that the militia clause allows any regulation by government. Both views are false. Both sides err from their cultural bias and lack of understanding of history and logic. The gun nuts do not respect the constitutional requirement to regulate, and the gun controllers  generally don’t like guns. They talk at each other, grabbing a hold of a partial truth, unable to see the genius of the amendment.

The two parts function as one, not as independent clauses. From the viewpoint of the Constitution, there is no right to bear arms except as part of a well regulated militia, and there can be no militia without a right of the people to keep and bear arms. Regulation and bearing arms are not opposed to each other; they exist because each is necessary to the other. The purpose of the militia is to secure freedom. The lack of a militia, or a poorly-regulated militia, cannot achieve the goal of securing freedom.

“Well-regulated” is what ties the militia to government. The Founders were aware, from Whiskey and Shays and other rebellions, that an unregulated militia was a threat to citizens and to government. Even today, right-wing militias give the militia idea a bad name. The concept, however, is not rooted so much in government as it is in the weakness of government and the need for citizens to play a role, in fact, an armed role. The concept assumes no split between people and government, but a unity of function, each needing the other. Relative success in achieving domestic tranquility since the Civil War has allowed these lessons to be forgotten, even when they have application today.

How do we know that such a militia is necessary for freedom? We know it is necessary because in America today we do not have a well-regulated militia, and it allows the loss of freedom in high crime areas and random gun violence elsewhere. It does not matter if a death is caused by foreign or domestic enemies. Our domestic  enemies are the gun jihadists, who do not want a well-regulated militia. Out of control gun crime in some neighborhoods, murder after murder, suicides, accidental deaths, assassinations, and periodic mass killings of children are now far worse than in the days of the Early Republic.

The regulation would work two ways, keeping guns out of the hands of the unqualified, and as a rapidly mobilized force of volunteers to work with police when local crime gets out of control. The viability of this idea will vary from place to place, but something should be done to overcome the frustration and vulnerability of people, usually low income people, who live in high crime areas with violence that is not tolerated in developed countries. Something should be done to keep guns out of the hands of those unqualified to be in a militia, to at least reduce the frequency of random mass shootings.

In February, Robin Kelly won a Democratic primary in Chicago for a seat Congress with a pro-gun control position, defeating an anti-gun control candidate. She was helped by what most pro-security candidates have lacked, funds for an aggressive campaign on the issues. The pro-gun money has usually been able to make support for security toxic, but in Chicago the tables were turned. The new money came from a political fund established by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turning the tables. People got the information they needed to vote in their self-interest.

Bloomberg has used his wealth to criticize Democratic Senators who voted against stronger gun laws when well over 60 percent of their constituents wanted them. Some of his fellow Democrats fear such attacks could cost the party seats in the Senate and loss of control. On the other hand, the value of Democratic control is vitiated by the unwillingness of the Democratic majority to use its votes to stop minority rule by the Republicans.

Past outrage over assassinations and mass shootings, and many years of serious efforts like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, have not been enough, and we do not know if Chicago is a turning point. But it can be, and it will take about six years of work from a much higher political base to restore the security required by the Constitution. Gun jihadist support for candidates needs to become politically toxic.

Progressive states need to experiment with militia concepts. Responsible gun owners need to establish state advocacy groups to promote the Second Amendment, and to teach the genius behind its wording, its value to the Early Republic, how it fell into decay, and how gun jihadists have tried to brainwash Americans into opposing their own Constitution. We can restore the pride people once felt to keep and bear arms in a well-regulated militia, people like my ancestor Lieutenant Reuben Doty (1745—c1820) of Colonel Humphrey’s regiment, and my Great Grandfather John Gilman McAllister, Assistant Surgeon of the Fourth Battery of Light Artillery in the Second Brigade, First Division, Massachusetts Militia.

Given the cultural power of those passionately trying to use the Constitution to undermine it, progress over the next few years is likely to be minimal. The great majority usually fails to vote the way it feels. Responsible gun owners have a difficult row to hoe: they will not be appreciated by those who don’t like guns, and they will be attacked by other gun owners. Any organization may be slandered as an unregulated militia, yet there is no governmental support for a regulated militia. The idea that the National Guard is somehow the militia is inconsistent with the Constitution, because citizens should not be expected to be in the National Guard.

A well regulated militia could be part of an effort to deal with crime in high crime areas. It may seem counter-productive to have more arms in an area where guns are out of control, but there are a couple of counter-considerations: the gangs associated with guns are greatly out-numbered by old adults who now have no armed framework for action, and enforcement of regulation would remove guns from the irresponsible.

A well regulated militia would by its nature not allow an uncontrolled proliferation of weapons and bullets. Such controls are usually thought of in the context of control, but properly implemented they strengthen the effectiveness of citizens to keep and bear arms. It makes no sense to arm citizens and then also arm the criminal element they are supposed to fight, or to arm the mentally ill and unstable. The framing problem has been that control measures are seen as controlling guns, rather than as a  citizen militia effective. Militia-based gun control is required by the Constitution.

We need not honor every decision of the Founders. They themselves were uncertain as to what would work and what not. They made compromises, like slavery and limited suffrage, that have not stood the test of time. However, in the case of the Second Amendment, citizen ownership of Arms is today still very much a recognized right, and the need for security is as great to deal with domestic enemies as it was when the amendment it was adopted to deal with foreign enemies. The Founders showed wisdom in exactly how they framed the idea. It is time we honored the intent of the Founders. It is a matter of regulation and freedom, and of pragmatism and patriotism.

Appendix A

This tally puts Sen. Reid as a yes because his shift to no before close of voting was a parliamentary maneuver to preserve the right to move for reconsideration.

Apendix A

Appendix B

Apendix B

Various sources. See www.internationalcomprisions.org