Headlines: Study: Worst of Global Warming Can be Avoided; Germany Bans Monsanto Crop

Democracy Now Headlines: Study: Worst of Global Warming Can be Avoided; Germany Bans Monsanto Crop

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Report: Under CIA Pressure, Obama to Withhold Parts of Torture Memos

President Obama is reportedly wavering on a pledge to fully reveal Bush administration memos authorizing CIA torture. According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House is leaning towards withholding graphic details of tactics authorized in three classified memos from 2005. The details include approval for striking a prisoner’s head against a wall and the practice known as waterboarding. The issue is reportedly centering around warnings from top intelligence officials that the memos’ full disclosure would anger CIA employees and alienate them from the White House. President Obama faces a Thursday court deadline to act on releasing the memos under a lawsuit brought by the ACLU.

Gitmo Prisoner: Torture Has Worsened Under Obama

“I refused to leave my cell as they were not granting me my rights. I was only demanding my basic rights like walking, meeting other inmates, and eating normal food. So a group of six soldiers wearing protective gear and helmets came to my cell. They were accompanied by a soldier carrying a camera, and one with tear gas. They had a thick rubber or plastic baton they beat me with. They emptied out about two canisters of tear gas on me. After I stopped talking, and tears were flowing from my eyes, I could hardly see or breathe. They then beat me again to the ground, one of them held my head and beat it against the ground. I started screaming to his senior ‘see what he’s doing, see what he’s doing’ [but] his senior started laughing and said ‘he’s doing his job.’ He broke one of my front teeth.”

Qaraani was interviewed by the Al Jazeera journalist Sami El-Haj, who was imprisoned at Guantanamo for over six years. Qaraani repeated claims made by other Guantanamo prisoners and their attorneys that the abuse has worsened since President Obama’s election.

Mohammad al-Qaraani: “This treatment started about 20 days before Obama came into power, and since then I’ve been subjected to it almost every day. Since Obama took charge he has not shown us that anything will change.”

Obama Addresses Economic Crisis

President Obama spoke at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University Tuesday in his most comprehensive remarks to date on the economic crisis. Obama predicted a worsening recession but said he foresees a long-term recovery.

President Obama: “2009 will continue to be a difficult year for America’s economy. The severity of this recession will cause more job loss, more foreclosures, and more pain before it ends. If we don’t invest now in renewable energy or a skilled workforce or a more affordable health care system, this economy simply won’t grow at the pace it needs to in two or five or ten years down the road. If we don’t lay this new foundation, it won’t be long before we are right back where we are today.”

Survey: More Pay Rises than Cuts for U.S. CEOs

A new survey has found more American CEOs got pay raises than salary cuts last year. According to the AFL-CIO, the median CEO salary rose seven percent while executive perks rose thirteen percent. Some executives that saw cuts to their base pay were granted lavish stock options to offset the losses. Despite reporting an $11 million dollar salary, Vikram Pandit of the bailed-out financial giant Citigroup made $38 million with stock options included.

DHS Links Right-Wing Extremism to Recession

The Department of Homeland Security is warning right-wing extremist groups are gaining new recruits by exploiting fears about the economy and the election of the nation’s first black president. A new report says there’s been a resurgence of right-wing extremism amidst the recession and President Obama’s election last year. Officials predict a worsening economy will lead more people to join militias and skinhead groups, or carry out individual acts modeled after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Iran Begins Secret Trial for Jailed Iranian-American Journalist

In Iran, a jailed Iranian-American journalist has gone on trial in secret. Thirty-one-year-old Roxana Saberi has been imprisoned in Iran since January. She was arrested for working without press credentials but was charged with spying last week. Iran says her trial will continue behind closed doors.

Haiti Appeals for International Aid

Haiti is appealing for international aid to avoid what it calls a looming collapse. On Tuesday, Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis made the appeal at a donor conference in Washington.

Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis: “We are treading on very fragile ground. If no action is taken now, the consequences will be catastrophic. I want to take back with me the commitments and hope we are longing for in our quest for lasting development and democracy.”

The poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti has been devastated by a string of hurricanes and two U.S.-backed coups over the last two decades.

Bolivian Lawmakers Approve Electoral Reform

In Bolivia, lawmakers have passed a landmark electoral law that would increase representation for low-income rural areas. President Evo Morales had gone on a five-day hunger strike to campaign for the bill. On Tuesday, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia hailed what he called a victory over the country’s elite.

President Evo Morales: “If the oligarchy insults me, if they attack me, it means that I am doing my job. It means that I am defending the people. It means I am doing my constitutional duty of defending the homeland.”

The bill also sets Bolivia’s next presidential and congressional elections for December.

Germany Bans Monsanto Crop

Germany has become the sixth European country to ban genetically-modified maze produced by the American biotech giant Monsanto. The German government said the Monsanto crop is harmful to the environment. Until the new ban, it had been the only Monsanto crop permitted in Germany.

Study: Worst of Global Warming Can be Avoided

In environmental news, a new study says the world can still avoid the worst of global warming if current European Union proposals for cutting greenhouse gases are adopted. A computer simulation by National Center for Atmospheric Research based on a seventy percent emissions cut found world temperatures will still increase but not to an unsustainable level. The Arctic sea shelf would still shrink but not completely disappear, while about half of changes in droughts and floods could be avoided. Heat waves would also be 55 percent less intense.

Tax Resisters to Hold Day of Protest

And today is tax day. As millions scramble to mail in their last-minute returns, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee says tax resisters will hold protests around the country to show their opposition to funding war. The day of protest is being called “The War is Not Over.” A new study meanwhile from the National Priorities Project says that more than 37 cents of every income tax dollar goes to military spending. By contrast, environment, energy and science spending projects split 2.8 cents of every tax dollar, while housing, community and food programs split 3.8 cents.

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Earth Democracy Author, Vandana Shiva, Speaks at WMU

Activist Vandana Shiva Recently Spoke at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo

Indian activist and author Vandana Shiva spoke at Western Michigan University last Thursday on the theme of sustainability, the topic of one of her most recent books,Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.

Shiva began her talk by saying that we live in extremely important times, because the paradigm of fossil fuels consumption is killing us. She also used a comment from the founder of the Indian Satyagraha movement, Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi, when writing about the Western World, said that it “only promotes consumerism and comfort.” But, this model, according to Gandhi, is one that is self-destructive.

Corporate Globalization is a Dictatorship

Shiva then went on to talk about corporate globalization as a form of dictatorship. Corporate globalization uses force to achieve its goals as well as legal and institutional constructs such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). One example the author gave was how the global grain giant Cargill took control of the agricultural policies under the GATT/WTO. Shiva said they wrote the agreement and essentially represented the US at the international level to push through an agricultural policy that would allow them control of much of the world’s grain market.

Another way that Cargill has negatively impacted local agriculture is their dumping of soy oil on the market in India several years ago. Shiva said they were able to do this with huge subsidies, also part of the WTO agreements, which undercut the local market. People could not compete with the price of the soy oil, which was not nearly as good for human consumption as the dozens of other oils that Indians used. In response, women organized a Satyagraha campaign and made their own oil in defiance of the law.

Intellectual Property Rights and Seed Theft

The other main issue that Shiva addressed was the destructive consequences of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property rights were essentially an expansion of traditional property rights that included seeds, humans, and any other form of life. India had a non-patent framework for products built into their constitution, but that changed with the WTO. What this has meant is that Monsanto controlls 95% of the global seed store. Seeds–which are the ultimate regeneration resource–have now been privatized.

This control of the global seed stock is being manifested in three ways. First, corporations are using genetic modification that necessitates the use of more pesticides, most of which are manufactured by the same corporations. Second, the control of global seed stock means that these corporations can control the price of seeds. So for example, last year Monsanto raised corn seed costs from $200 a bag to $300, which meant that they profited even more off world hunger. The third way they control seed stock was to legally insert into the WTO agreements the inability of farmers to save their own seeds, thus making them dependent on companies like Monsanto to buy their seeds.

One crop where this seed control has been devastating for Indian farmers is with cotton. The GMO cotton seeds that Indian farmers are now forced to buy also require large amounts of pesticides and farmer just end up going into debt. This crisis has resulted in a great deal of resistance, but it has also meant that many Indian farmers have taken their own lives. Shiva said that over 200,000 farmers have committed suicide as a protest of the seed control. One irony with this is that the highest areas of suicide are the same area of Indian where Gandhi’s campaign of homespun cotton began, a campaign that complimented a national boycott of British made clothes from cotton.

Climate Chaos or Earth Democracy

Shiva also addressed the issue of Climate Change, which she said is an inaccurate way of naming the problem. We should call it climate chaos, because with Global Warming, weather patterns have become unpredictable and destabilizing. This, the author/activist said was due to our addiction to fossil fuels.

“We are not phasing out fossil fuels, because they are now used in agribusiness. The toxic nature of fossil fuels agribusiness is killing the soil. 40% of greenhouse gases are produced because of the way we grow and distribute food.”

Shiva believes that the only way to move away from this addiction to fossil fuels, as it relates to agriculture, is a shift to localism, “The local level is where the change must happen, with food production and energy creation. Local food systems are very important and are even an antidote for wars,” Shiva said. “Why did the US go to war in Iraq? Oil. The same is true for Afghanistan and other parts of the world.” She then said that a shift to bio-fuels is not a sustainable solution either. “If all of the corn that is grow in the US right now is used for bio-fuel it would only provide 7% of the fuel needs. So, if the appetite of resource consumption continues then wars are inevitable.”

The author/activist said that the only viable transition away from this corporate structure is what she calls earth democracy:

“The current economic system is based on theft. We have to restore our economy. I started the seed saving group Navdanya as a way of defending life. Life is to be shared, not bought and sold. The earthworm does not eat up the soil that it lives in, it enriches it. We need to catch up to these other species. We need to look to them as teachers, these species, the soil, because that is where life gets renewed. The soil is an alternative to the collapsing economy, to the fossil fuel destruction, and it is an alternative to wars.”

Shiva concluded by saying that earth democracy is different than electoral democracy because in electoral democracy you expect someone else to do it for you, but with earth democracy we must make the changes ourselves.

Bill Restricting Local Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops Passes House and Senate

On Thursday, the Michigan Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 777, a bill that restricts the capacity of local municipalities to regulate or restrict the planting of genetically modified seeds. Earlier this week the House passed its version of the bill, modifying the original Senate bill to allow local governments to ban seeds if it is determined that they will harm the environment or public health. Such a ban would also have to be supported by the Commission on Agriculture. While Republicans have framed the issue in terms of allowing landowners the autonomy to decide what to plant on their land, agribusiness corporations have backed similar legislation across the country in a coordinated attempt to prevent the regulation of genetically modified seeds. Already fourteen states have passed laws preventing local municipalities from banning genetically modified seeds.

Seed Bill Likely to Emerge in House after Senate Bill Stalls

After faltering in the Senate, activists expect that a bill designed by industry to prevent the regulation of genetically engineered crops by local municipalities will soon appear in the Michigan House of Representatives.

According to the coalition of small farmers, environmentalists, and consumers that successfully campaigned to stop a bill in the Michigan Senate that sought to limit the capacity of local municipalities to restrict the use of genetically modified seeds, the bill will likely reemerge in the state’s House of Representatives. Already, Republican representatives Neal Nitz and John Proos, both of whom are members of the House Agriculture Committee, are circulating a version of the Senate bill to recruit co-sponsors in an effort to pass a House version of the bill before drawing the public attention that effectively defeated the Senate bill.

The Michigan Senate bill (SB 777), sponsored by Republican Gerald Van Woerkom, would prevent local communities from enforcing an ordinance prohibiting or regulating the labeling, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, use, or planting of genetically modified seeds. According to reporting in the Michigan Citizen, Van Woerkom says that while large agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto would benefit the bill they are not behind it and that the impetus for the bill instead comes out of concerns for farmers who could benefit from the use of genetically modified seeds and questions about the abilities of local governments to regulate and evaluate genetically engineered crops. Van Woerkom has also claimed that he has the support of the Senate Agriculture Committee citing the working relationships he has with other Committee members and conversations that suggest only Democratic Senator Liz Brater opposes the bill. While Van Woerkom says that he did not introduce the bill on behalf of industry, it is worth noting that Van Woerkom receives extensive political contributions from industry political action committees (PACs), many of whom are among Michigan’s top PACs.

The legislation, which is being promoted in Michigan by the Farm Bureau, has likely come at the behest of industry despite Van Woerkom’s comments to the contrary. Across the United States, agri-business corporations and lobbying interests are supporting “preemption” bills as a way of preventing cities from restricting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Industry has taken this course in response to citizen initiatives around the country that have sought to restrict GMOs, including successful initiatives involving three California counties and one-hundred New England towns that have GMOs. In 2005, seventeen states introduced legislation removing local control of plants and seeds and the common language between the bills has suggested a coordinated effort by industry. The effort is believed to have originated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobbying group, where an industry proposal for a “biotechnology state uniformity resolution” was first discussed in May of 2004.

Aside from issues of local control and corporate involvement in the legislative process, the legislation is also opening old questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods. As has historically been the case, environmental and human concerns are being raised with activists pointing out that there has been little human study on the long-term safety of GMOs which frequently produce allergic or toxic effects in people. The allergy threat has been highlighted with by the accidental introduction of StarLink corn in 2000 that was subsequently pulled from stores due to allergy concerns. Moreover, there is no pre-market safety testing for GMO foods, a fact that has led campaigners to argue that restricting municipalities’ capacity to regulate GMOs undermines the so-called “precautionary principle” whereby thorough investigation of new technologies should be conducted before their adoption.

Particularly in Michigan, much of the opposition to GMOs has been in terms of their potential environmental concerns. Genetically modified crops can contaminate neighboring crops without providing any visual clues, a process which may have devastating effects on local ecosystems. This concern is particularly acute with experimental crops, which are frequently “field tested” in Michigan. The biotechnology industry began field testing in the 1980s as a way of determining the impact of new crops on the environment and how they function, but the USDA has failed to adequately regulate the tests leading to the introduction of nonnative organisms in ecosystems, soil damage, so-called genetic pollution, and the development of new viral strains in response to virus-resistant plants. In Michigan, some 750 open-air field tests of GMOs and biopharmaceuticals have been conducted. Since the introduction of field tests, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has only rejected 3.6% of the total applications—a number that has caused critics to question the capability of the USDA to oversee such tests. These concerns gained additional validity last month when the USDA’s inspector general released a report finding that the agency has failed to properly oversee trials. The report was released shortly before the Center for Food Safety sued the USDA for its failure to adequately analyze the public health, environmental, and economic consequences of its release of genetically engineered alfalfa.

Questions of oversight, along with opposition from consumers, activists, university professors, and cities, are what ultimately caused the Senate bill to stall in committee. Already, activists are organizing against a similar bill in the House, beginning their effort before such a bill is introduced. As part of this effort, there is currently a letter writing campaign targeting the Michigan House Agriculture Committee.

Of Michigan’s 125 food crops, 90% of soy is genetically engineered, as is 32% of the corn crop. On the national level, 85% of soy and 45% of corn is genetically engineered while about 70% of processed foods are believed to contain genetically modified ingredients.