Pro-GMO lobby: Genetically engineered Golden Rice: Is this the solution for disease, poverty and malnutrition?

November 13th, 2019


False promises, smears

The pro-GMO lobby often relies on fraudregulatory delinquencyopaque practicessmear campaignsdirty tricks, slick PR andthe debasement of science. While choosing to sideline the root causes of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and regional food insecurity (and effective solutions), it promotes a techno quick-fix based on profitable proprietary technology.

At the same time, prominent advocates of GM attempt to deflect attention from their own self-interest in promoting this technology and their hypocritical attitudes towards the poor by smearing their critics and offering sound bites about ‘feeding the poor and hungry’. And then there are the wealthy agritech corporations which flex their financial and political muscle and effectively hijack democracy for their own ends by slanting, science, politics, policies and regulation (these claims are discussed herehere and here).

Given this situation, it should not be about whether we are pro-GMO or anti-GMO. It is more the case of whether we are anti-corruption and pro-democratic.

People are demanding transparency, genuine independent testing and genuine independent evaluations of the impacts of GM on farmers’ livelihoods, ecology, the environment and on human and animal health. They also require fair and open debate.

Instead, what we too often get are dirty tricks, smears and PR from supporters of GM, which demonstrate a deep ideological commitment to corporate power and profit, rather than an openness and a willingness to address the concerns of those who question the efficacy of GMOs and the practices of the companies, politicians and scientists who are promoting this technology.

It is about what is best for farmers, the public as consumers of food and the environment, not what is best for research funding and career paths, well-paid lobbyists, rich CEOs and wealthy shareholders.

The case of Golden Rice

GMO advocates have long argued that genetically engineered Golden Rice is a practical way to provide poor farmers in remote areas with a subsistence crop capable of adding much-needed vitamin A to local diets. Vitamin A deficiency is a problem in many poor countries in the Global South and leaves millions at high risk for infection, diseases and other maladies, such as blindness.

Some scientists believe that Golden Rice, which has been developed with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, could help save the lives of around 670,000 children who die each year from Vitamin A deficiency and another 350,000 who go blind.

Meanwhile, critics say there are serious issues with Golden Rice and that alternative approaches to tackling vitamin A deficiency should be implemented. Greenpeace and other environmental groups say the claims being made by the pro-Golden Rice lobby are misleading and are oversimplifying the actual problems in combating vitamin A deficiency. Moreover, they argue that the Golden Rice programme is diverting attention from other more effective solutions.

Global Research for more

The spoils of economic war: How the US, Saudis profit from sanctions on Venezuela and Iran

November 13th, 2019



The United States has been playing the role of the world’s economic bully. So far, the U.S. has imposed sanctions against Afghanistan, Burundi, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, China, Cyprus, Haiti, Libya, Lebanon, Belarus, Crimea, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russia, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Russia, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

But if unilateral harassment has proven itself historically ineffective at achieving conventional geopolitical objectives, why does the U.S. insist on bullying Venezuela and Iran?

A glance at the political economy of international oil markets, an industry used as a battlefield to further the aims of war, provides insight into the seemingly irrational realm toward which President Donald Trump has been leading U.S. foreign policy.

U.S. energy independence requires manipulating markets

Since international markets are highly speculative, many believe that price trends cannot be manipulated; however, that is not true. When energy commodities and strategic raw materials are involved, the U.S. does not sit back as a patient price taker but prefers to throw the dice as a price maker.

Between 2006 and 2014, when China’s economic boom was increasing the demand for international commodities,  structural changes occurred that paradoxically favored the U.S. a few years later. First, high oil prices allowed the fracking industry to become a financially viable option.

This, in turn, helped the U.S. gradually overcome the dependence it had experienced for 30 years, and which made it the world’s largest oil importer in 2016, with a voracious appetite of around 12 million barrels per day (bpd).

In December 2018, for the first time in the last 75 years, the U.S. became a net oil exporter thanks to “thousands of wells producing from the Permian region of Texas and New Mexico to Bakken in North Dakota and Marcellus in Pennsylvania,” the Los Angeles Times reported. 

“We (the U.S.) are becoming the dominant power in the world,” as Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, Inc. said.

Trump is reaping the fruit of energy independence, a condition he did not contribute to at all. This abundance of energy is fragile, however, because maintaining it depends on keeping oil prices as high as possible.

Therefore, to force this to happen, anything that threatens to diminish global oil supplies is actually good for the U.S., including the blockade of Venezuelan and Iranian exports.

And that’s not all…

If you can’t make more pie, make sure you control the slices

While the U.S. now has enough oil to be able to export some of its reserves, Trump’s homeland can’t satisfy the world’s energy demands completely. This opens up business opportunities for Saudi Arabia and other allies who can also benefit from economic sanctions against Venezuela and Iran.

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XX Files : Animalia genitalia : Patty Brennan

November 13th, 2019

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Iran’s capacity to strike back should even make a politically desperate Trump think twice

November 12th, 2019


MAP/Duck Duck Go

The claim that Iran is the main “sponsor of terrorism” is one that has become a cliché from Washington to Riyadh

On CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of his kingdom’s brutal war on Yemen, suggested that a war against Iran would be a bad idea. It could, he said, lead to a “total collapse of the global economy.” The region that includes Saudi Arabia and Iran contains about a third of the world’s energy reserves, and a fifth of its oil goes through the Strait of Hormuz — one of the flashpoints of our present. MBS, as the prince is known, used the interview to urge the West to put more pressure on Iran. With a broad and sinister smile, he suggested that if the West did not succeed, then Saudi Arabia would be impelled to act against Iran.

Saudi Arabia continues to insist that the September 14 attack on its oil facilities came from Iran, and not from Yemen. This is despite the fact that both the civilian and the military authorities in Iran have denied that they conducted the successful raid on the Saudi airfields. Instead, the Houthis in Yemen said that they did do the raid; they said that if the Saudis continue their aerial bombardment of Yemen, such drone strikes would become more common.

As CBS broadcast its interview with MBS, the Houthis released a video that depicted its attack on Saudi troops in August. That attack, the Houthis said, killed at least 500 Saudi soldiers who were trapped and fired upon by drones. Saudi Arabia has not responded to this claim. This attack is the most audacious to date, showing how confident the Houthis have become in this war that has been ongoing for the past four years.

These two drone attacks show that the capability of the Houthis has increased. They have been able to strike genuine fear in the heart of Saudi Arabia, shutting down its oil production and lowering the morale of its troops. Saudi Arabia — with constant arms sales from the West — will be able to continue to bomb Yemen from the sky. But, by all indications, it is unlikely to be able to launch a ground invasion to overthrow the Houthis.

Apart from aerial bombardment, the Saudis have used a blockade of the country to suffocate its people. But this has both created a terrible humanitarian catastrophe and focused the attention of the United Nations. On September 10, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council that the impact of this war on Yemen has been “truly devastating.” Over 24 million people — nearly 80 percent of the population — require humanitarian aid. Most of it comes through the port of al-Hudaydah, which has faced attacks and a blockade. The UN has struggled to ensure that it be open. The Saudi attempt to starve the population has failed.

Main source of terror?

At the opening of the UN General Assembly, Yemen was represented by Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadhrami. He is the foreign minister of one of the two governments that claim to represent Yemen. His president is Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, whose government is backed by Saudi Arabia. The other government is that of the Houthis, which is led by Mahdi al-Mashat (president) and Abdel-Aziz bin Habtour (prime minister). They are not recognized by the United Nations, so they were not able to attend the opening of the General Assembly. Nor is their highly skilled foreign minister Hisham Sharaf the recognized representative of Yemen. Al-Hadhrami’s emotional address to the UN was marred by sectarianism. There was no room here for negotiations. Iran, he said, echoing Saudi Arabia, is “the main sponsor of terrorism throughout the world.” That was that.

The claim that Iran is the main “sponsor of terrorism” is one that has become a cliché from Washington, D.C., to Riyadh. It has become so common that no evidence is needed to prove it.

Popular Resistance for more

How Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump have profited off their dad’s presidency

November 12th, 2019


(from left) Eric Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka Trump PHOTO/GQ AUSTRALIA

As House Democrats continue their impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s efforts to leverage foreign aid for political favors, among his most ardent defenders, as usual, are Trump’s adult sons Donald Jr. and Eric.

“Why didn’t @JoeBiden recuse himself from dealing with Ukraine?” Don Jr. tweeted recently. “His son was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company that had been investigated by the prosecutor who Joe pushed to be fired.” This, Don Jr. argued, created the “appearance of impropriety,” and constituted a “clear conflict of interest.”

Eric was similarly critical of this arrangement in an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show on October 2. Hunter, Biden’s son, “didn’t know anything about the industry he was in,” Eric protested. “He didn’t have any discernible duties, and he’s getting paid $50,000 a month? And then he gets $1.5 billion from China? Laura, it’s insane.”

It is perhaps true that when the vice president is in charge of American foreign policy in Ukraine, his son’s service on the board of a Ukrainian energy company is not a great look. But the Trumps have omitted or misstated key facts en route to their anti-nepotism outrage. Biden joined the international community in calling for the ouster of Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, because Shokin was slow-walking investigations and ignoring the corruption he’d been charged with rooting out. If anything, Biden’s efforts to get rid of Shokin increased the likelihood that the energy company, Burisma Holdings, would face meaningful scrutiny.

The $1.5-billion-from-China talking point, meanwhile, is a wildly-distorted reference to the financial maneuverings of an investment fund called BHR Partners. Hunter Biden served on the fund’s advisory board beginning in 2013, and acquired a ten-percent stake in 2017. A lawyer for Hunter Biden told the Washington Post that his client received no compensation as a BHR board member, and has not seen a return on his investment since becoming an investor.

Yahoo for more

Forget the ‘Badasses’ – let’s not whitewash the impeachment push

November 12th, 2019


Maxine Waters … along with Congressman Al Green, she has long pushed for Trump to be impeached. PHOTO: REX/Shutterstock

CNN has called five white congresswomen the ‘leaders on impeachment’ – erasing the black and brown voices that blazed the trail

In a world where an orange supervillain is menacing democracy, a small group of progressive congresswomen of colour have been valiantly fighting to bring him down. Now the same US Congress that brought you the Squad has spawned a new Democratic girl gang. This one consists of five white congresswomen who call themselves the Badasses. The women reportedly adopted the name because they all used to be in the military or the CIA. (Nothing screams badass like signing up to an institution that is notorious for waterboarding people.)

There has been little about the Badasses in the news because, until recently, the centrist lawmakers didn’t do anything particularly newsworthy. That changed last Monday when, along with two other moderate Democrats, they published an opinion piece in the Washington Post calling for Donald Trump to be impeached over allegations he pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the former vice-president Joe Biden. Less than 24 hours after the piece was published, Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry.

There are numerous reasons that the inquiry has finally been ordered but, according to CNN, it was the Badasses wot won it. On Saturday, CNN published a glowing profile of the women, calling them “leaders on impeachment” and declaring that their article “changed the dynamic for House Democrats, and indeed the course of history”.

Excuse me? I think the entity changing the course of history here is CNN. And by “changing” I mean “shamelessly whitewashing”. I don’t know what kind of fantasy world you have to be living in to call the Badasses “leaders on impeachment” when it took them until last week to decide Trump should face consequences for his actions. The real leaders here are the brown and black politicians who have spent years demanding impeachment. In May 2017, Al Green became the first congressional Democrat to call for impeachment, citing obstruction of justice, after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey. At that time, few Democrats backed the idea, but Green kept pushing, slowly gathering support.

Maxine Waters, another black member of Congress, has also been tirelessly calling for Trump to face real consequences. In March she lamented that many of her colleagues “whisper the president should be impeached, but have not supported my call for impeachment. Only a few of us dare to continue to urge both Dems and Repubs to impeach this dangerous president.”

Among the few who dared to publicly support Waters were members of the Squad. Indeed, the moment Rashida Tlaib was sworn into Congress she announced: “We’re gonna impeach the motherfucker!” She got a lot of flak for that “uncivil” comment. Remember: it’s fine for the US president to boast about grabbing women “by the pussy” (that’s locker-room talk!), but when other people use foul language it crosses a line.

It may be true that it didn’t become politically expedient to call for impeachment until this Ukraine scandal. However, I highly doubt that Pelosi would have issued the order had it not been for a small number of brave politicians ensuring impeachment was a constant topic of conversation. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Saturday, Waters and Tlaib “endured the brunt of gaslighting and vitriol for being among the first to recognise [White House] corruption and publicly advocate for impeachment, making it easier for the rest of us. People think that’s easy. It’s not.”

Ocasio-Cortez is right. Standing up for your principles and calling for the most powerful man in the world to be impeached when your own party doesn’t support those calls isn’t easy. What is easy is standing by as others get abused for advocating impeachment and then, once the idea has been mainstreamed, jumping on the bandwagon. And there’s nothing badass about that.

The Guardian for more

Kushner’s threat to Palestine

November 11th, 2019


President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS (Muhammad Bin Salman) PHOTO/TRT World

Norman Finkelstein is a leading authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict. While most observers have proclaimed Jared Kushner’s ongoing ‘peace’ initiative to be dead in the water, Norman warns that it may pose a serious threat to the Palestinians. In part 1 of this interview, I spoke with him about what we can expect from the Kushner initiative going forward.

What is the end goal of the Kushner-led ‘peace’ process?

The Trump administration hasn’t demonstrated focus or consistency at the diplomatic level. But I don’t agree with all the talk that the Kushner plan is “dead on arrival”.

The prime mover behind the Kushner plan is neither Israel nor the US. It’s Saudi Arabia. Saudi covets an open alliance with the Israelis and the US. It fears the Iran axis. It’s a feudal despotism largely impotent on its own; it needs others to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. Witness the Saudi debacles in Yemen and Syria. On a more immediate level, there’s the Khashoggi affair—MBS (Muhammad Bin Salman) is desperate to be rehabilitated in Washington. If Saudi enters into an open alliance with Israel, even liberal members of Congress will forgive his “indiscretions.” So the Saudis harbor strong motives to push through the Kushner plan. The one and only obstacle to an open alliance with Israel is the Palestine Question. If they can resolve it, or appear to resolve it, then it’s clear sailing.

What do the Israelis get out of it? They’ve already gotten from Trump recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan as belonging to Israel. The Kushner plan’s political component will almost certainly include recognition of what’s called the “major settlement blocs” as belonging to Israel. That’s about 10 percent of the West Bank on the “Israeli” side of the wall. For now, Israel doesn’t want the rest of the territory because it doesn’t want all those Arabs. It will be said by Trump supporters, correctly, that the whole elite establishment in the US—liberal to conservative, Democrat to Republican—has always supported Israeli annexation of the settlement blocs.

However, recognition won’t be a huge victory for Netanyahu because the Trump regime is too eccentric. It’s possible that if Trump is defeated in 2020, the Democratic president will resume the status quo ante and pretend the Trump years never happened. Then we’d be back to Jerusalem, the Golan, and the settlement blocs having the same status as in prior US administrations.

What would be a huge victory for Netanyahu would be an open alliance with Saudi Arabia. It would spell the official end of the Arab League. One of the core unifying elements of the Arab League was opposition to Israel. The Gulf states will realign with Israel, alongside Egypt and Jordan. Israel’s biggest diplomatic victories in the Arab world were Camp David, 1978 (Egypt’s defection from the “Arab Front”), and Oslo, 1993 (the PLO’s de facto collaboration with the US and Israel). A Saudi-Gulf open realignment would be Israel’s third big diplomatic victory.

What does the United States stand to gain from this?

The US motive has actually not been disguised. You have to pay attention to the language; they call it the “Deal of the Century”. Trump, Jared and Ivanka are business people. They don’t really care about politics per se, except as a vehicle for personal enrichment. They just want to cut deals. Jared sees the Gulf as chock full of real estate deals. It could become his playground literally for life as MBS, Saudi’s ruler for life, would be indebted to Jared for life.

The Palestinians don’t have many options. In the case of Gaza, the leadership has to show something for all the suffering in the Great March of Return. The Saudis will be able to offer them, alongside desperately needed funds, a partial lifting of the blockade. Israel would probably go along with it.

Z Comunications for more

Kill your idols: On the violence of experimental literature

November 11th, 2019


IMAGE/Good Reads

In a recent lecture on innovative writing, Myung Mi Kim argued that any artistic experiment is inherently violent, as the artist is dismantling an inherited tradition in order to make way for the new. For many writers, innovation does indeed contain destruction in its very definition. After all, the experimental text cannot exist in the same space as the conventions that restrict its meaning, stifle its performativity, and deny its legitimacy.

Three recent books remind us that an experiment, though it challenges elements of a familiar literary heritage, does not have to sacrifice unity of voice and vision. Karla Kelsey’s forthcoming Blood Feather, Kenji Liu’s Monsters I Have Been, and Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers skillfully dismantle received forms to offer alternative ways of creating meaning and coherence from human experience. Though vastly different in style and scope, these three innovative texts share a commitment to a unity of concept, presenting us with larger questions about the politics of language that ultimately guide and focus the generative violence of the experiment. In their hands, innovation becomes an exercise in precision, as well as a legitimate danger. As Liu writes, “The under?state / swarms our / documents. Our / lungs.”

Monsters I Have Been opens with an articulation of the artistic goals and the parameters of an invented poetic form called “frankenpo.” Liu writes in the form’s definition: “to create a new poetic text by collecting, disaggregating, randomizing, rearranging, recombining, erasing, and reanimating one or more chosen bodies of text, for the purpose of divining or revealing new meanings often at odds with the original texts.” As the book unfolds, the constraints and freedoms of “frankenpo” serve to unify the book’s wild flights of the imagination, as Monsters I Have Been reads as an extended exploration of the possibilities inherent in this specific literary form.

In many ways, it is the intense focus of Liu’s experiment that brings his discoveries into sharp relief. Culling text from a variety of sources, which range from screenplays to New York Times articles, feminist theory, and U.S. presidential executive orders, Liu shows us beauty and danger contained within the same turns of phrase, which can house both violence and redemption, light and unspeakable darkness. The poems in Monsters I Have Been call attention to the remarkable disconnect between language and the real world toward which it constantly gestures. At the same time, Liu frames this disconnect, the inherent arbitrariness of the signifier, as a source of agency for the creative practitioner.

Liu writes, for example, in “Thus I Have Heard,” “We are visas / in a national / drowning. / Each of us an executive / decision, pursuant to clay. / Each a subsection? of protocol / and yet.” Here Liu reconfigures language from unspecified source texts, reminding us that intent not only shapes outcome with respect to the words we use, but also that intent can bring to light the beauty that resides just beneath the surface of a seemingly unremarkable text. For Liu, the same language can carry revelation and violence, enlightenment and oppression.

The Millions for more

Understanding small caste-based political parties in India

November 11th, 2019


Mukesh Sahni at the rally to launch the Vikassheel Insaan Party at Gandhi Maidan, Patna, November 2018PHOTO/Sarthak Bagchi

The story of the Vikassheel Insaan Party or VIP, a party of the Nishad community in Bihar, is important for understanding the positives and negatives of the rise of small caste-based political parties whose only agenda is reservation and representation.

Political observers of Bihar are aware of the importance that Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, the large open space of lush green grass cover in the heart of the city, has among the political class. From Jayprakash Narayan’s call for “Total Revolution” (sampoorna kranti) to Lalu Yadav’s call for Yadavs to occupy the political landscape of Bihar in 1990 to Nitish Kumar’s Kurmi “Chetna” rally in mid 1994 to even Narendra Modi’s “Hunkar” rally in 2013, it is imperative for every political leader who wishes to leave his mark on Bihar to prove one’s mettle by filling Gandhi Maidan with his or her supporters.

The proliferation of caste-based parties on Bihar’s political horizon in the post-Mandal era has seen a parallel rise in Gandhi Maidan’s political prominence; the maidan witnessed as many as 40 caste-based political rallies between 1990 and 1993-94 (Choudhary and Srikant 2001, 252). Successfully filling the ground with a sea of supporters is a symbol of one’s “arrival” in Bihar.

Mukesh Sahni, the leader of the newly formed Vikassheel Insaan Party or VIP, knows this fact only too well. It was on the morning of 4 September 2015 that I met him for the first time during a padyatra outside the Gandhi Maidan that had been organised by his Nishad Vikas Sangh. The padyatra was supposed to start from Gandhi Maidan and culminate at the Governor’s House where Sahni, who likes to call himself the “Son of Mallah”, was to meet the then Governor Ramnath Kovind, and along with his supporters put forth the demand for the inclusion of the Nishad community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST)/Scheduled Castes (SC) category.

Comprising about 8% of the total population of Bihar, the Nishads are a largely riverine caste group of around 22 sub-castes or jaatis, who come from the Mallah, Godhi, Kevat, Noniya, Sahni and other sub-castes which are involved in river-related occupations as boatmen, fishermen, net weavers, salt makers and so on. The community with around 22 sub-castes forms a large part of the 130 odd jaatis which together make up the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) population, which in itself comprises about 32% of Bihar’s population.

Mukesh Sahni’s VIP is the latest entrant to the club of regional caste-based parties which have been proliferating in India, especially in the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

A young and flashy individual, who had brought back to Bihar the riches he earned in Mumbai, Sahni looked the opposite of the image of a career politician as popularised in public perception. Although clad in a kurta pyjama, he had a crisply cut waist coat of a designer label, some accompanying gold chains and a shiny earring on his right ear, bringing out the bling factor in his personality. The blonde highlights in his hair, albeit out of place in Bihar, were a token of his assertive rich self from Mumbai. 

The India Forum for more

Weekend Edition

November 8th, 2019