Monthly Archives: June 2013

Suicide Letter from Iraq War Veteran Says He Was Made to Commit War Crimes


Frontlines of Revolutionary Struggle

During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from. I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of. To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. — Daniel Somers, whistleblower
By: Kevin Gosztola
Dissenter June 22, 2013
“The simple truth is this: During my…

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Anglo Irish Banks -Most Recent Updates from home and Abroad


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Banks treated Irish people with contempt, says O’Malley

Irish Times
“The contempt shown by Anglo Irish Bank for the Irish people and for their welfare and their public institutions was probably not very different from the attitude taken up by some of the other banks. We just do not have first-hand aural evidence of the 
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Merkel calls Anglo Irish Bank chatter damaging to democracy

Deutsche Welle
In Ireland, transcripts of telephone conversations between employees from 2008 at Anglo Irish Bankhave caused a massive outrage. In the tapes, the workers make fun of the government’s decision to guarantee bank liabilities at the height of the 
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Anglo Irish tapes are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to other banks

IrishCentral
Not surprising given the fact that while former chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, David Drumm, and his senior executives, Peter FitzGerald and John Bowes, joked, mocked and cursed at the Irish tax payers’ expense, their reckless behaviour was 
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Money trail

David Drumm carried out a number of personal financial moves that coincided with Anglo’s demise, writes investigative correspondent Conor Ryan read full article

irishexaminer.com

The Anglo Tapes, The Guarantee And Ireland’s Economic Crisis

Probably the biggest economic story in Europe this week has been the release of recorded phone calls from 2008 between executives of the now-notorious Anglo Irish Bank.  Anglo was a recklessly… read full article

forbes.com

Irish PM shocked by ‘vulgar’ Anglo Irish Bank tapes
New Straits Times
BRUSSELS : Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said Friday he was thunderstruck by leaked tapes at the centre of a scandal at the bailed-out Anglo Irish Bank which he said has tarnished Ireland’s reputation. But Kenny said after an EU summit in Brussels 
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Mocking Germans Adds Irish Insult to Banking Injury
Bloomberg
Irish politicians say jibes at Germans by some of the country’s former bankers undermine their case for securing help to cut the 64 billion-euro ($83 billion) bill for saving the financial system. John Bowe, a former executive at the now defunct Anglo 
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Anglo Irish Bank scandal ‘damages democracy’, Angela Merkel says
The Guardian
Angela Merkel has expressed “contempt” for the disgraced Anglo Irish Bank executives caught on tape mocking Germany’s involvement in the institution’s €30bn (£25.7bn) bailout. The German chancellor delivered a strong condemnation of the revelations, 

Irish, German leaders slam Anglo bank’s arrogance
Businessweek
BRUSSELS (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday blasted newly disclosed comments by former directors of Ireland’s most notorious bank, who mocked foreign depositors and conspired to conceal the true scale of their losses while winning a 

Irish PM Enda Kenny attacks bankers – video
The Guardian
Speaking at the EU summit in Brussels, Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, gives his response to recordings of Anglo Irish Bank staff joking about a bailout deal and mocking Germany. His comments follow an accusation from the German chancellor 

Mantashe’s ‘Swedes and Irish’ jibe stirs up history


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According to the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, those responsible for “the anarchy that is happening in the platinum industry” are the “Swedes and Irish”. It was a comment that left many commentators dumbstruck.Citizens of Sweden and Ireland seemed a rather strange choice as scapegoats to take the place of the former “counter-revolutionaries” of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union Amcu. But Amcu, certainly over the past week or two, no longer fits the scapegoat bill: the ANC has stated that earlier pro-National Union of Mineworkers NUM and anti-Amcu comments by prominent ANC figures had been “resolved”; Amcu and NUM were now regarded equally.But why the use of “Swedes and Irish”? Some commentators saw in this parallels with the apartheid government’s claims of “foreign agitators” and “white communists” being behind the mass uprisings against their regime.However, the consensus view was probably summed up by mining analyst Peter Major. He felt that Mantashe was indulging in pre-election “politicking” and should “quit trying to manufacture people from outside the country” to explain the complex problems in the industry.

The problems are indeed complex and Mantashe’s remarks probably do belong, on one level, to the category of opportunistic politicking and spin.

But there is also a history involved and, especially for many members of the SACP, he conjured up a spectre from South Africa’s trade union past – and this at a time when political rivalry and fears about the 2014 election are growing.

Mantashe’s comments also seem to be part of the desire by the ANC-led alliance to try not only to mend bridges with Amcu, but to ensure that this now major player on the union front does not end up either forming or supporting a rival left-wing workers’ party. This is a particular concern of the SACP, which is formally acknowledged by Cosatu as “the [only] workers’ party”.

But as with most political spin, there is also an element of fact amid the fiction. So Mantashe did not have to manufacture people: a few individuals, related in some way to the platinum belt, do exist to provide a veneer of credibility to his claims.

He noted that “it is a Swedish citizen who is at the centre of the anarchy”. This was a clear reference to Liv Shange, a member of the small Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), which has been quite active helping to organise workers on the platinum belt.

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A slight, blonde woman, she made it onto television screens and newspaper pages when, megaphone in hand, she addressed hundreds of striking miners.

Her gender and complexion made her more newsworthy than other socialists who were – and remain – more active among miners, especially in the platinum sector. Mametlwe Sebei and Elias Juba, who are both more prominent in the Rustenburg area, have attracted little media attention. But, like Shange, they are members of the DSM, which was, until 1996, the Marxist Workers’ Tendency (MWT) inside the ANC.

The three are also members of the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp), launched earlier this year. The general secretary of Wasp is a former SA Municipal Workers’ Union and ANC organiser, Weizman Hamilton.

There was also an Irish connection at the Wasp launch in the form of Joe Higgins, a Socialist Party member of the Irish parliament who has long had connections with South Africa and with the local union movement. The presence of Higgins and the involvement of long-time activists such as Hamilton gave Wasp a degree of credibility as a potential political contender: history seemed to be repeating itself.

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For some 30 years, the MWT was a thorn in the side of the ANC and formed part of a challenge to the dominance of the SACP over the main labour movement. The challenge came in the demand for an independent workers’ party.

An often forgotten fact is that the SACP initially opposed the formation of Cosatu, insisting instead that the self-exiled SA Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) was “the only true representative of South African workers”. However, reality quickly overcame ideological certainty; Cosatu was recognised and Sactu dissolved. But the battle about an independent workers’ party subsided only after 1993.

“Now I think there is something of the ghost of the past coming to haunt them,” said Shange, speaking from her family home in northern Sweden, where she is holidaying with her 14-year-old step-daughter and her own son and daughter, aged five and eight. She is booked to return to South Africa on July 14, but has been told by the South African embassy that she lacks “the proper papers”.

A former Socialist Justice Party councillor in her home town, Shange is married to a South African and has lived in the country for the past 10 years.

“I had a spousal visa that was in the passport I lost when I was mugged in 2010,” she said. Attempts to get the visa re-issued proved fruitless because “they couldn’t find my file”. She suspects she may now be a victim of political persecution, but feels that the loss of the file could just as easily be a matter of bureaucratic bungling.

Yesterday she was still trying to gain permission from the South African embassy in Stockholm to return to South Africa. “The children have to start school on July 15,” she said, adding that it was “ridiculous that any single individual or group can be responsible” for events in the mining sector.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa concurs: “Workers organise as workers irrespective of religious and political affiliations or whatever,” he says. Amcu, he insists, is politically non-aligned.

“Politics is for politicians [although] we know our opponents would like to associate us with particular political structures to calm their guilty consciences.”

So while religious and political evangelism continues, among unionists as well as in wider society, Amcu will remain “apolitical”. “This is our position and we shall not be persuaded otherwise.”

via Mantashe’s ‘Swedes and Irish’ jibe stirs up history – Opinion | IOL Business | IOL.co.za.

How Will the Dalai Lama React to the loosening of restrictions in Tibet?


How Will the Dalai Lama React  to the loosening of restrictions in Tibet? At the time of writing we still await a response from the Dalai Lama.

 

If this is an honest attempt to see His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet from the perspective of the people of Tibet, then the new Chinese leadership is showing stunning clarity capable of breaking down decades of unnecessary misery and misunderstanding.

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U-turn on Dalai Lama attacks
Hong Kong Standard
Beijing has loosened restrictions that kept Tibetan monks in two provinces from openly revering theDalai Lama. Authorities in Sichuan province said people can display pictures of the Buddhist spiritual leader and ordered officials not to criticize him 
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Beijing eases ban on Dalai Lama’s image
The Australian
Radio Free Asia‘s Tibetan service reported that permission to venerate the Dalai Lama openly again – as a religious but not as a “political” leader – is being introduced in areas of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, which have large Tibetan populations.
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Reports Say Worship Of Dalai Lama Allowed In Sichuan And Qinghai, China
International Business Times
Chinese authorities have announced that two provinces with ethnic Tibetan populations will be able to openly venerate the Dalai Lama for religious purposes, in what seems to be a step toward the central government relaxing its attitude on the exiled 
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“U.S. state on alert after nuclear waste leak” — Governor: “This is most disturbing news”… No ‘immediate’ public health threat #Hanford


The Australian.

US state on alert after nuclear waste leak […] HEIGHTENED radioactivity levels have been found outside a nuclear waste tank in the US state of Washington, officials say, in a new alert about a site used to make Cold War-era bombs. Governor Jay Inslee said there was no immediate public health threat […] A spokeswoman for Washington state’s Ecology Department explained why the new finding was so disturbing. “Until last night, it was thought the leak was contained in the outer shell, but workers detected elevated radioactivity levels within the leak detection pit,” Erica Holmes said.

CNN

The elevated reading, however, doesn’t pose an immediate public health threat, [Washington Gov. Jay Inslee] said. “This is most disturbing news for Washington,” the governor said in a statement. […]

KING 5 News

[…] It appears the most dangerous material on earth is out of its tank and out of their control, and there’s no immediate plan on how to solve the problem. […]

Now it appears the worst case scenario has happened, the waste has eaten through the outer tank wall. […]

But no one expected this […]

A crew working on the leak detection pit pulled a piece of equipment from it and measured a whopping contamination reading — 800,000 dpm,or disintegrations per minute. […]

via “U.S. state on alert after nuclear waste leak” — Governor: “This is most disturbing news”… No ‘immediate’ public health threat #Hanford.

Unloveable Shell, the Goddess of Oil


For a century, Shell has explored the Earth to make our lives more comfortable. But in its wake, says Andrew Rowell, lies corruption, despoliation and death

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh went to the Shell Centre on the Thames riverside near Waterloo last Tuesday, to crown the company’s centenary celebrations. Critics claim the timing of the Queen’s visit was slightly unfortunate: it came just one day after the second anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death in Nigeria: he was campaigning against Shell’s oil exploitation in the region.

The Shell Transport and Trading Company (STTC) has risen from its humble roots in a cramped office in the East End to become one of the most successful corporations of the century. What we collectively know as “Shell” is in fact more than 2,000 companies. Last year, the Shell Group’s profit was a record pounds 5.7 billion, the proceeds from sales of pounds 110 billion. “Were our founder, Marcus Samuel, to reappear today, I do not think he would be displeased with what has grown from his efforts,” says Mark Moody-Stuart, STTC’s chairman.

As part of the centenary celebrations, the cream of the City were invited to a reception at the Guildhall. There is also to be a commemorative book. Whilst it may mention the Shell Better Britain Campaign, and even the controversy over Brent Spar, not everyone will agree with the authorised biography’s version of Shell’s history. Here is a less authorised approach.

After it merged in 1907 with its rival Royal Dutch, the Royal Dutch Shell company was formed; its first chairman was the Dutchman Henri Deterding. By the 1930s, Deterding had become infatuated with Adolf Hitler, and began secret negotiations with the German military to provide a year’s supply of oil on credit. In 1936, he was forced to resign over his Nazi sympathies.

During the early 1940s, as the world waged war, Peru and Ecuador had their own armed border-dispute – over oil. Legend in Latin America says that it was really a power struggle between Shell, based in Ecuador, and Standard Oil in Peru. The company left a lasting reminder of its presence in the country: a town called Shell. Activists in Ecuador are seeking to get the town renamed Saro-Wiwa.

In the post-war years, Shell manufactured pesticides and herbicides on a site previously used by the US military to make nerve gas at Rocky Mountain near Denver. By 1960 a game warden from the Colorado Department of Fish and Game had documented abnormal behaviour in the local wildlife, and took his concerns to Shell, who replied: “That’s just the cost of doing business if we are killing a few birds out there. As far as we are concerned, this situation is all right.”

But the truth was different. “By 1956 Shell knew it had a major problem on its hands,” recalled Adam Raphael in the Observer in 1993. “It was the company’s policy to collect all duck and animal carcasses in order to hide them before scheduled visits by inspectors from the Colorado Department of Fish and Game.” After operations ceased in 1982, the site was among the most contaminated places on the planet, although Shell is now trying to make it into a nature reserve.

At Rocky Mountain, Shell produced three highly toxic and persistent pesticides called the “drins”: aldrin, dieldrin and endrin. Despite four decades of warning over their use, starting in the 1950s, Shell only stopped production of endrin in 1982, of dieldrin in 1987 and aldrin in 1990, and only ceased sales of the three in 1991. Even after production was stopped, stocks of drins were shipped to the Third World.

Another chemical Shell began manufacturing in the 1950s was DBCP, or 1,2 -Dibromo-3-Chloropropane, which was used to spray bananas. This was banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1977 for causing sterility in workers. In 1990, Costa Rican workers who had become sterile from working with the chemical sued Shell and two other companies in the Texan Courts. Shell denied that it ever exported the chemical to Costa Rica and denied that it exported it to any other country after the ban in 1977. The case was settled out of court.

Just as people had begun to question Shell’s products, so they began to challenge its practices. In the 1970s and 1980s, Shell was accused of breaking the UN oil boycott of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by using its South African subsidiary and other companies in which it had interests. Shell, singled out by anti-apartheid campaigners for providing fuel to the notoriously brutal South African army and police, responded by hiring a PR firm to run an anti-boycott campaign.

By the 1980s criticism of Shell’s operations was spreading. From Inuit in Canada and Alaska, to Aborigines in Australia and Indians in Brazil, indigenous communities were affected by Shell’s operations.

In the Peruvian rainforest, where Shell conducted exploration activities, an estimated 100 hitherto uncontacted Nahua Indians died after catching diseases to which they had no immunity. Shell denies responsibility, and says that it was loggers who contacted the Nahua. By the end of the decade, the company’s image was suffering in the US and UK, too.

In April 1988, 440,000 gallons of oil was discharged into San Francisco Bay from the company’s Martinez refinery, killing hundreds of birds. The following year, Shell spilt 150 tons of thick crude into the River Mersey, and was fined a record pounds 1 million.

But by now, the company was responding to growing international environmental awareness. “The biggest challenge facing the energy industry is the global environment and global warming,” said Sir John Collins, head of Shell UK, in 1990. “The possible consequences of man-made global warming are so worrying that concerted international action is clearly called for.”

Shell joined the Global Climate Coalition, which has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to influence the UN climate negotiations that culminate in Kyoto next month. “There is no clear scientific consensus that man-induced climate change is happening now,” the lobbyists maintain, two years after the world’s leading scientists agreed that there was.

At the same time, the company has taken its own preventive action on climate change and possible sea-level rise by increasing the height of its Troll platform in the North Sea by one metre. By 1993, as Shell’s spin-doctors were teaching budding executives that “ignorance gets corporations into trouble, arrogance keeps them there”, 300,000 Ogoni peacefully protested against Shell’s operations in Nigeria. Since then 2,000 have been butchered, and countless others raped and tortured by the Nigerian military.

In the summer of 1995 there was the outcry over the planned deep-sea sinking of the redundant oil platform Brent Spar, and in November Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed, having been framed by the Nigerian authorities. At the time Shell denied any financial relationship with the Nigerian military, but has since admitted paying them “field allowances” on occasion. This year in Nigeria, the three-million-strong Ijaw community started campaigning against Shell, leading to another military crackdown.

“The military governor says it is for the purpose of protecting the oil companies. The authorities can no longer afford to sit by and have the communities mobilise against the companies. It is Ogoni revisited,” says Uche Onyeagucha, representing the opposition Democratic Alternative. In Peru, Shell has returned to the rainforest. It acknowledges “the need to consider environmental sustainability and responsibility to the people involved”, but the move is still criticised by more than 60 international and local environmental, human-rights and indigenous groups.

“Shell has not learnt from its tragic mistakes,” says Shannon Wright from the Rainforest Action Network, which believes there should be no new fossil-fuel exploration in the rainforest: “They continue to go into areas where there are indigenous people who are susceptible to outside diseases.” Meanwhile, Shell publicly talks of engaging “stakeholders”.

It hopes that we, as consumers, will continue to give it a licence to operate. However, for each barrel produced, the ecological and cultural price increases exponentially. Everyone knows we need to reduce our consumption of oil: but Shell’s very existence depends on selling more of it. Senior executives are said to be “girding our loins for our second century” because “the importance of oil and gas is likely to increase rather than diminish as we enter the 21st century”. Can we let that happen?

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via The Guardian: Unloveable Shell, the Goddess of Oil – Royal Dutch Shell plc .com.

Democracy needs whistle-blowers


James Sheffield, Knoxville

As I write this, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is on trial in Fort Meade, Md., facing a slew of charges pertaining to his role in a massive leak of classified government documents. More than 8,000 miles away, former National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden faces the possibility of extradition to the United States from Hong Kong, where he sought refuge earlier this month after pulling off one of the most significant leaks of government secrets in U.S. history.

Thanks to Snowden’s noble actions, we now know that President Barack Obama’s administration (and that of George W. Bush’s before him) has sanctioned the widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens under a secret NSA program known as PRISM, whereby companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Verizon have been ordered to turn over information regarding their customers to the intelligence community.

People across the political spectrum are outraged, and rightfully so. Conservatives have unintentionally joined forces with those on the far left (yes, it’s true) and many liberals in chastising the Obama administration for what amounts to one of the worst instances of governmental abuse of power — at least on the domestic front — in many years.

Needless to say, none of these things would have been exposed had it not been for those brave souls who risked spending the rest of their lives in prison so that we could know what our government is up to. In light of this, we should praise these individuals as heroes, not vilify them as traitors. Everyone who is alarmed by executive overreach should be paying close attention to what happens to Manning and others like him and should be praying to whatever god they pray to that our government doesn’t succeed in silencing all future whistle-blowers. We need them, for democracy — if that is in fact what we have — cannot function otherwise.

via Letter: Democracy needs whistle-blowers » Knoxville News Sentinel.

Letter #3 to Goldman Sachs’s Edith W. Cooper


In this book of letters written by ordinary people affected by the fallout from the financial crisis is a chapter devoted to Goldman Sachs starting on page 91.

The third letter is from page 94 in The Trouble is the Banks:  Letters to Wall Street, edited by Mark Greif, Dayna Tortorici, Kathleen French, Emma Janaskie and Nick Werle, printed in paperback edition by n +1 Research Branch Small Books Series #4, 2012, New York, NY.

Here is letter #3

Hello Edith–Wow, Now I Know a 1 Percenter!

To:  Edith W. Cooper*, Goldman Sachs

Greetings Edith,

I hope this message finds you well.  Gosh, I am thrilled to meet you, even though we haven’t met face-to-face…yet!

I mean, wow, I actually know a 1 percenter now!  How cool is this?

Of course, you probably don’t have much to worry about even if you’re not feeling well, because I trust that you have great health insurance–thanks to me helping pay for it.

Wow, Edith, how great is that! 🙂

Since I hope we get to know one another better, here’s a little bit of info about me:  I have a degree in journalism and my hubby has a double Master’s in music, but since we’re over 50 years old, our premiums climbed, so we were faced with a slippery slope choice…Do we eat, or do we pay for health insurance?  It was a toss-up, but we decided that food was more important.

Oh wait–you haven’t heard about our foreclosure?  Law enforcement came to our door and gave us one hour to vacate!  Oh, that morning was so much fun–I wish you could have been there!  Yes, we were in that first wave in ’08, after putting down a down payment of…wait for it…$300,000.

We totally qualified, you see…hubby had a great business, until his clients could no longer pay him…Our lender told us “don’t worry, we want to work with you!  We can see you have never been in trouble before!”–and well, it’s a long story.

I’ll save the rest of this story for next time, because I am so looking forward to writing back again..very, very soon.

Your new pen pal,

Hilary Grant

Los Osos, CA 93402

P.S.  I can’t wait to hear about the beautiful clothes you must wear.  I buy all of my clothes these days at thrift stores, but maybe we can compare notes?

*Edith W. Cooper is Executive Vice President and Global Head of Human Capital Management for Goldman Sachs

via Goldman Sachs: Information, Comments, Opinions and Facts: Letter #3 to Goldman Sachs’s Edith W. Cooper.

Study: Monsanto GMO food claims probably false


A farmer fills his planters with seed corn using a leading Monsanto brand. (Credit: AP/Seth Perlman)

Oops. The World Food Prize committee’s got a bit of egg on its face—genetically engineered egg. They just awarded the World Food Prize to three scientists, including one from Syngenta and one from Monsanto, who invented genetic engineering because, they say, the technology increases crop yields and decreases pesticide use. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Monsanto and Syngenta are major sponsors of the World Food Prize, along with a third biotech giant, Dupont Pioneer.)

Monsanto makes the same case on its website, saying, “Since the advent of biotechnology, there have been a number of claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically modified (GM) crops don’t increase yields. Some have claimed that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM crops… GM crops generally have higher yields due to both breeding and biotechnology.”

But that’s not actually the case. A new peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability examined those claims and found that conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering, is responsible for yield increases in major U.S. crops. Additionally, GM crops, also known as genetically engineered (GE) crops, can’t even take credit for reductions in pesticide use. The study’s lead author, Jack Heinemann, is not an anti-biotechnology activist, as Monsanto might want you to believe. “I’m a genetic engineer. But there is a different between being a genetic engineer and selling a product that is genetically engineered,” he states.

The study compared major crop yields and pesticide use in North America, which relies heavily on GE crops, and Western Europe, which grows conventionally bred non-GE crops. The study’s findings are important for the future of the U.S. food supply, and therefore for the world food supply since the U.S. is a major exporter of many staple crops.

Heinemann, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and director of the Center for Integrated Research in Biosafety, says he first began looking into the matter after he heard a remark made by Paul Collier in 2010. Both Heinemann and Collier, an Oxford economics professor and author of the bestselling book The Bottom Billion, were speaking at a conference in Zurich.

Collier “made the offhand remark during his talk that because Europe has shunned GMOs [genetically modified organisms], it’s lost productivity compared to the US,” Heinemann recalls. “That seemed odd to me. So while he was talking, I went to the FAO [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] database and I had a look at yields for corn. And over the short term, from 1995 to 2010, the US and Western Europe were neck and neck, there was no difference at all. So his assertion that lack of GMOs was causing Europe to fall behind didn’t seem true.”

Heinemann attempted to ask Collier for the source of his facts through the conference’s Internet-mediated audience Q&A system, but he never got an answer. He continued poking around for data and stumbled upon what he calls “the textbook example of the problems that come from a low genetic diversity in agriculture” – the 1970 Southern corn leaf blight epidemic.

“Really what happened by 1970 was that upwards of 85 percent of the corn grown in the US was almost genetically identical,” explains Heinemann. “The US is the world’s biggest producer of corn and both geographically and in quantity, so when you cover that much land with a crop of such a low genetic diversity, you’re simply asking for it to fail… In 1970 a previously unknown pathogen hit the US corn crop and the US almost lost the entire crop. It was a major crisis of the day. The only thing that saved the corn crop was that the weather changed in 1971 and that weather change wasn’t as favorable to the pathogen, so it gave farmers and breeders and extra year to swap over the corn germplasm to a variety that wasn’t as vulnerable.”

All told, the epidemic cost an estimated five trillion kilocalories in lost food energy, making it “many times larger than the Irish potato famine,” said Heinemann.

“Now that was in a day where biofuels were not being made from corn. So there was no competition for those food calories… Fast-forward to the drought of 2012. How many food calories were lost because of it? In kilocalories, it’s 89 trillion just from the drought. That’s just from an annual variation due to weather… The U.S. is the biggest producer and exporter of corn.”

When the U.S. corn crop fails, the entire world feels the pain.

Given the stakes, Heinemann decided to look at the productivity and sustainability of the U.S. agricultural system. And when examining sustainability, he means it in a very literal sense: can this system be sustained over time? Is U.S. agriculture resilient or is it highly susceptible to variations in weather, pests or other stressors?

Instead of examining North America alone, he chose to measure it against Western Europe. Therefore, he is able to measure not just whether North American agriculture improved over time, but whether or not it improved more or less than a similar region. Agriculture on both sides of the Atlantic is fairly similar, with the major exception the adoption of GE crops.

Both the U.S. and Canada were early adopters, whereas Western Europe did not adopt GE crops. The study compared crops that are common to both regions: corn and wheat in the U.S. and Western Europe, and canola in Canada and Western Europe. Almost all of the corn and canola grown in North America is genetically modified, whereas no GE wheat is grown in either region studied. Therefore, the study could isolate whether any increases in yields were thanks to genetic engineering or simply due to conventional crop breeding.

Even in genetically engineered plants, most of the genes in the plant come from conventional breeding. Think about the new sheep genetically engineered by scientists in Uruguay to – no joke – glow in the dark. Its DNA contains genes that tell its cells to make wool, hooves, four legs, a head, and everything else that makes it a sheep. Only a few genes – the ones that make the sheep glow in the dark – were inserted via genetic engineering. If the sheep happens to have the best wool for making sweaters or it produces the best milk for making cheese, that’s due to conventional breeding and not genetic engineering.

The same is true for crops. One or more genetically engineered traits can be added to any variety of corn, soybeans, or canola. Most of those crops’ traits come from conventional breeding. If a GE crop does particularly well or particularly poorly, the success or failure could be due to the genes inserted via genetic engineering… or it could be due to all of its other conventionally bred genes.

Heinemann’s group found that between 1985 and 2010, Western Europe has experienced yield gains at a faster rate than North America for all three crops measured. That means that the U.S., which grows mostly GE corn, and Canada, which grows mostly GE canola, are not doing as well as Europe, which grows non-GE corn and canola. The increases in corn yields in the U.S. have remained relatively consistent both before and after the introduction of GE corn. Furthermore, Western Europe is experiencing faster yield gains than America for non-GE wheat.

What does this mean? “There’s no evidence that [GE crops] have given us higher yields,” says Heinemann. “The evidence points exclusively to breeding as the input that has increased yields over time. And there is evidence that it is constraining yields in the North American agroecosystem.” He offers two potential reasons why. First, he says, “By making the germplasm so much narrower, the average yield goes down because the low yields are so low.”

In other words, the lack of biodiversity among major crops today results in bigger losses during bad years.

Companies that make GE crops benefit from a relatively new law, passed in 1994, allowing for much stricter intellectual property rights on seeds. Previously, a company had the rights to sell its seed. A farmer could buy that seed and cross it with other seeds to produce locally adapted varieties. He or she could then save and replant those varieties. Now, the company can patent the genes inside the plant. It doesn’t matter if a farmer breeds Monsanto’s corn with a local variety and produces a brand new type of corn. If the resulting seeds have Monsanto’s patented gene in them, then Monsanto owns them. The farmer cannot save his own seeds.

This means that seed companies now control the amount of biodiversity available to farmers. And the number of varieties they sell has been going down. For example, the study found that in 2005, farmers could choose from nearly 9,000 different varieties of corn. The majority (57 percent) were GE, but farmers still had over 3,000 non-GE varieties to pick from. By 2010, GE options had slightly expanded, but non-GE options plummeted by two thirds. Similar reductions in varieties sold were seen in soybeans and cotton, too. By 2010, only 17 percent of corn varieties, 10 percent of soybean varieties, and 15 percent of cotton varieties available in seed catalogues were non-GE.

But these numbers make the U.S. seed supply look more biodiverse than it actually is. Within all of those thousands of corn varieties sold, one single variety, Reed Yellow Dent, makes up 47 percent of the gene pool used to create hybrid varieties. All in all, corn germplasm comes from just seven founding inbred lines. More than a third come from one of those seven, a line called B73.

With farmers in nearly every state planting such genetically similar corn, farmers experience booms and busts together. Farmers in Mexico, the birthplace of corn, plant a fantastic variety of corn. The plants differ in color, height, ear size, drought tolerance, maturity time, and more. If bad weather shows up late in the season, the early maturing varieties still provided a harvest. If it’s dry, the drought tolerant varieties survive. If a new disease shows up, some of the corn is bound to have some resistance to it whereas other varieties will be more susceptible to it. Biodiversity acts almost like an insurance system.

Planting genetically identical crops results in the opposite. It’s like betting all of your money on one lottery number. And when U.S. corn farmers lose the lottery, they all lose together so the national yield plummets.

Second, Heinemann adds, “Another possibility is that it’s not genetic engineering per se but it’s the innovation policy through which genetic engineering is successful that is causing the U.S. agroecosystem to invest in the wrong things. So the innovation strategy gives signals to the industry to produce things that can be controlled by strict property rights instruments, but these things are not contributing to sustainable agriculture. The problem is that the biotechnologies that the US is invested in are limiting the sustainability and productivity of the agroecosystem.” (Heinemann means “biotechnologies” in a very broad sense, as in any technology humans use in agriculture, even something as simple as using mulch or composting.)

“Western Europe has gone for a different kind of innovation strategy,” he continues. “Because Europe has had to innovate without using genetic engineering,” due to its laws that do not allow GE crops, “it does so in a way that rewards the plants. They’re getting greater yield and using less pesticide to do it. But the way the US is innovating, it’s penalizing all plants whether they are genetically engineered or not.”

Yep, that’s right. In addition to increasing crop yields faster, European nations have also reduced pesticides more than we have.

“The US and US industry have been crowing about the reduction in chemical insecticide use with the introduction of Bt crops [GE crops that produce their own pesticide],” says Heinemann. “And at face value, that’s true. They’ve gone to about 85 percent of the levels that they used in the pre-GE era. But what they don’t tell you is that France went down to 12 percent of its previous levels. France is the fourth biggest exporter of corn in the world, one of the biggest exporters of wheat, and it’s only 11 percent of the size of the U.S.

“So here is a major agroecosystem growing the same things as the US, corn and wheat, and it’s reduced chemical insecticide use to 12% of 1995 levels. This is what a modern agroecosystem can do. What the US has done is invented a way to use comparatively more insecticide.” Comparatively more than what? “More than it should be!” exclaims Heinemann. “It should be down to 12% too!”

via Study: Monsanto GMO food claims probably false – Salon.com.

The No-Show – By Anna Nemtsova


HAVANA — We’re waiting for you in Havana, Snowden. Are you on your way?

It’s still unclear what happened on Monday, June 24, the day after leaker Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong. That day, Snowden was supposed to board a plane to Havana to then transfer to Ecuador, one of the very few places willing to shield him from the American officials who regard him as a traitor. He even had a boarding pass for the window seat in row F, in economy class. But he never showed up, and his seat stayed empty.

Was Snowden trapped in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport against his will by the Russian security service, curious to see the data he had in his computers? Or was he afraid of flying in a plane that could be grounded while passing over the United States, where American courts were waiting to lock him up in jail for over 30 years? Until the very moment the Aeroflot crew closed the plane’s door, it looked like he was coming: Russian police surrounded Gate 28, patrolling outside and inside the airplane. The crew members on the plane looked tense and upset, as if they were facing a horrible trial. We still don’t know what happened at the last moment, but in the end Snowden stayed in Moscow.

I was on that plane, waiting for him along with several dozen other journalists from international news agencies and TV channels, all of us eager to quiz him about his claims. I wanted to ask Snowden about the evidence he had to prove his claims that the U.S. and British intelligence agencies, despite their governments’ public advocacy for freedom of the Internet, had been spying and stealing tons of personal data from people in their home countries.

For a long time, after we took off, we still could not believe that Snowden was not among us: After all, who knew what disguise he might be using? (This might seem a bit less crazy when you consider that we just saw an American spy wearing a wig last month.) Trapped on the flight for 12 hours, journalists walked around the plane looking into every passenger’s face. Other reporters were already waiting to greet Snowden in Cuba. They looked for him inside and outside Havana’s airport, asking every young blond male if he was Snowden. I’m still hoping to meet up with Snowden here in Havana, though Ecuadorean diplomats now say it may take months to issue him political asylum.

There’s one very specific reason Snowden may be having trouble finding a way out of the Moscow airport’s transit lounge, where he apparently is right now: his papers. Right now the only travel document he has is one of dubious status issued by the Ecuadoreans. After the American authorities canceled his U.S. passport on Monday, no airline wants to sell him another plane ticket. (He apparently managed to buy his ticket for Havana while his passport was still valid.)

There are other theories. “He got frightened that Americans would bring him down on that plane,” says Igor Bunin, a Moscow political analyst. “He’s a huge pain for the Kremlin, a Catch-22. Now that he’s turned into an anti-American government star, Russia can’t kick him out, but keeping him means even a bigger international scandal.” I’d love to ask Snowden about his days and nights in Russia if I ever get the chance to meet him.

My friend Olga Bychkova, a host from radio Echo of Moscow, described a scene she witnessed in the airport’s transit zone on the day of Snowden’s arrival on Sunday. “I saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB [security service] agents in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport,” Bychkova told me. “The Kremlin pretends they have nothing to do with him being stuck in Moscow, but in reality they’re all over him.”

What’s up Mr. Snowden? Do you really hate reporters? If you’re “a free man,” as President Vladimir Putin says, why hide from crowds of journalists waiting to talk to you in Sheremetyevo airport for three days? WikiLeaks claims that you — the biggest leaker in the history of the National Security Agency — are “in a safe place.” If you’re safe and free, why didn’t you use your ticket last Monday? You would have had a great chance to explain the reasons for renouncing your wealthy life with a beautiful girlfriend. Just imagine: 12 hours in front of the world’s major networks on the flight to Cuba! Russian commentators think that you’re not as free as the Russian leader claims, that somebody did not allow you to fly Monday. “Snowden will fly out of Russia when the Kremlin decides he can go,” says Moscow political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. “He might not even be in the airport. The safest place would be a GRU [Russian military intelligence] apartment.” That would also explain why no one has seen your face in Moscow yet.

via The No-Show – By Anna Nemtsova | Foreign Policy.

Vatican official held for cash plot


Monsignor Nunzio Scarano is accused of fraud, corruption and other charges after the alleged Vatican plot

A Vatican official has been arrested over an alleged plot to take 20 million euro (£17 million) into Italy from Switzerland on board an Italian government plane.

Silverio Sica, lawyer for Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, said his client is accused of fraud, corruption and other charges stemming from the plot, which never got off the ground.

Mr Sica said that Scarano was a middleman in the operation. Friends asked him to intervene with a broker, Giovanni Carenzio, to return 20 million euro they had given him to invest.

Mr Sica said Scarano persuaded Carenzio to return the money, and an Italian secret service agent, Mario Zito, went to Switzerland to return it on board an Italian government aircraft.

He said the plot failed because Carenzio reneged. Carenzio and Zito have also been arrested

via Vatican official held for cash plot – Independent.ie.

Property tax hunger striker: ‘I’d say I won’t last too long’


Tony Rochford hasn’t taken food for 11 days – but insists he will not end his strike unless the property tax is repealed.

A MAN who today enters the twelfth day of his hunger strike against the property tax has admitted he does not expect to survive for much longer.

Tony Rochford, who turns 45 next week, has been on hunger strike in opposition to the new tax since last Monday.

Rochford has lost nine kilograms (about 19 pounds) since his strike began – surviving only on water and black coffee – and is continuing to lose weight as he refuses to end his protest.

Rochford borrowed €430,000 to pay for his home in Trim, Co Meath, in October 2008. However, within three months his work – installing marble worktops and features in houses – had dried up.

He believes his home is now worth about €280,000, making it liable for an annual property tax of €495.

He has had a negligible income since then, as he is not entitled to State support because he was self-employed, but had managed to keep his mortgage out of arrears until this week.

He claims, however, that his mortgage lender refuses to enter into any negotiations with him, because he and his wife had already been given a moratorium on their repayments – which has since concluded – and because he has not entered into significant arrears.

“They were very good with the mortgage, but not willing to do any deals until you get into distress… the whole thing is bloody crazy,” Rochford told TheJournal.ie last night.

The great thing about this house for the bank is, if they repossess this in the morning, they’ll only lose €50,000.

He said he has paid off €100,000 of his original loan, leaving €330,000 to be repaid – most of which could be recouped by the bank if it was to repossess and sell.

“I’d love to trade down – gimme a bit of land and I’d build a house myself – but the banks are giving me no options,” he said.

“If I do try and trade down I’m still lumbered with the excess… [because we] kept playing the bloody mortgage for fools. We followed what we were told by the government – do the right thing.”

Other protests were fruitless because while there was broad public opposition to the tax, there were too many fragmented groups against it.

Though Rochford has recently been able to start finding work again, his refusal to pay the property tax means that from next Monday he will be unable to receive a tax clearance certificate – meaning he will be without any income of any kind.

“I’m basically sentenced to death anyway,” he said.

I can’t work to provide for my wife, and I won’t be entitled to any welfare payments anyway.

The government is effectively sentencing me to death.

He added: “I’m not going to keep feeding money into the Irish Exchequer – when I was in trouble here and had no work or no money, they did nothing for us.”

Asked if there was any prospect of becoming so ill that he would give up his wife, he said: “I’m afraid not. No, there’s not. I’m just that type of stubborn person.”

Rochford is to mount a protest against the property tax outside the Four Courts on Monday morning – the day upon which the tax will formally be charged, and when he will lose his tax compliance – and says only the repeal of the tax will encourage him to end his strike.

via Property tax hunger striker: ‘I’d say I won’t last too long’.

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