Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Clown Prince of bloggers takes on Italian politics

After our interview, several uneasy Italian journalists suggest I must find it rather odd to discover a TV editor who supports one side so strongly.

Not really, I've interviewed enough British newspaper editors for precisely the same reason: to get an intelligent informed, but partisan view.

That all broadcasters, even ones that don't harvest a licence fee, are legally bound to be impartial in the UK, but newspapers are not, could be seen as a cultural quirk.

But it means that no-one in Italy seriously strives for objectivity.

Journalists are still organised in a guild, set up by Mussolini to control the press.

Before you are allowed to write a single article, you first have to have a sponsor within the industry, and then pass an exam sat in Rome, using an old-fashioned typewriter.

If the big organisation representing mainstream Italian journalists doesn't even acknowledge the existence of the technology that has been dominant for the last 20 years, it's not surprising that some see the internet as a way around the dead hand of an old elite.

Beppe the blogger

I go to Genoa to meet the man behind a blog whose aim is to clear the current political class out of power.

Beppe Grillo's online comments were voted by Time Magazine's readers as the world's most interesting political blog.

Beppe Grillo is, I guess, in his fifties, a mass of wavy curls more salt than pepper and a neat beard framing his engagingly impish face.

An irrepressible performer with political clout, he's the organiser of a rally with a very direct message to Italy's political elite. It was called "F-Off day". It drew a crowd of 80,000.

What amounts to political censorship cost him his job in 1987. He is a standup comic, and was perhaps the most popular comedian on Italian TV.

But then he made a joke about the then ruling party, the Socialists, being corrupt. The show's host walked off stage, the doorman wouldn't look him in the eye and he never appeared on TV again, barred by both the state and Berlusconi's private empire.

Even after a massive bribery scandal brought about the collapse of the Socialist party, he didn't get his job back.

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Revolution is the Solution By Cindy Sheehan

One of the founders of the USA, Thomas Jefferson, said that the US should have a revolution every 20 years or so because "lethargy" is the "forerunner to the death of liberty." Many more wars and the suppression of our liberties later, President John F. Kennedy said: "Those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent revolution inevitable."

Exactly a year before his assassination (and 36 years before Casey Sheehan's death in Iraq), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said that our nation needs a "revolution of values."

We at Cindy for Congress agree with these statements. We have been first-hand witnesses to the suppression of protest and freedom of speech here in the USA. We have been on the receiving end of police abuse and harassment and we have lost two loved ones to the war machine that Nancy Pelosi supports to enrich two of her major contributors: General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.

Nancy Pelosi's values do not match the values of the people of San Francisco. She was briefed on water-boarding in 2002 and did nothing to restrain BushCo from this inhumane practice that has only fueled violence and hatred and doesn't even obtain reliable intelligence for which our country has unfortunately paid a heavy price. This is why impeachment is "off the table." Nancy allowed legislation to proceed that benefited another one of her major contributors: Amgen; of which she is a stockholder.

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Off The Record - movie trailer

Country Joe McDonald Dogs George Bush

The Politics of a Perpetrator Population

All told, Iraq has a population of about 18 million. The 500,000 kids lost to date thus represent something on the order of 25 percent of their age group. Indisputably, the rest have suffered – are still suffering – a combination of physical debilitation and psychological trauma severe enough to prevent their ever fully recovering. In effect, an entire generation has been obliterated.

 The reason for this holocaust was/is rather simple, and stated quite straightforwardly by President George Bush, the 41st "freedom-loving" father of the freedom-lover currently filling the Oval Office, George the 43rd: "The world must learn that what we say, goes," intoned George the Elder to the enthusiastic applause of freedom-loving Americans everywhere. How Old George conveyed his message was certainly no mystery to the US public. One need only recall the 24-hour-per-day dissemination of bombardment videos on every available TV channel, and the exceedingly high ratings of these telecasts, to gain a sense of how much they knew.

In trying to affix a meaning to such things, we would do well to remember the wave of elation that swept America at reports of what was happening along the so-called Highway of Death: perhaps 100,000 "towel-heads" and "camel jockeys" – or was it "sand niggers" that week? – in full retreat, routed and effectively defenseless, many of them conscripted civilian laborers, slaughtered in a single day by jets firing the most hyper-lethal types of ordnance. It was a performance worthy of the nazis during the early months of their drive into Russia. And it should be borne in mind that Good Germans gleefully cheered that butchery, too. Indeed, support for Hitler suffered no serious erosion among Germany's "innocent civilians" until the defeat at Stalingrad in 1943.

There may be a real utility to reflecting further, this time upon the fact that it was pious Americans who led the way in assigning the onus of collective guilt to the German people as a whole, not for things they as individuals had done, but for what they had allowed – nay, empowered – their leaders and their soldiers to do in their name. 
If the principle was valid then, it remains so now, as applicable to Good Americans as it was the Good Germans. And the price exacted from the Germans for the faultiness of their moral fiber was truly ghastly. Returning now to the children, and to the effects of the post-Gulf War embargo – continued bull force by Bush the Elder's successors in the Clinton administration as a gesture of its "resolve" to finalize what George himself had dubbed the "New World Order" of American military/economic domination – it should be noted that not one but two high United Nations officials attempting to coordinate delivery of humanitarian aid to Iraq resigned in succession as protests against US policy. 
One of them, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General Denis Halladay, repeatedly denounced what was happening as "a systematic program . . of deliberate genocide." His statements appeared in the New York Times and other papers during the fall of 1998, so it can hardly be contended that the American public was "unaware" of them. Shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Madeline Albright openly confirmed Halladay's assessment. Asked during the widely-viewed TV program Meet the Press to respond to his "allegations," she calmly announced that she'd decided it was "worth the price" to see that U.S. objectives were achieved.

The Politics of a Perpetrator Population

As a whole, the American public greeted these revelations with yawns.. There were, after all, far more pressing things than the unrelenting misery/death of a few hundred thousand Iraqi tikes to be concerned with. Getting "Jeremy" and "Ellington" to their weekly soccer game, for instance, or seeing to it that little "Tiffany" and "Ashley" had just the right roll-neck sweaters to go with their new cords. And, to be sure, there was the yuppie holy war against ashtrays – for "our kids," no less – as an all-absorbing point of political focus. 
In fairness, it must be admitted that there was an infinitesimally small segment of the body politic who expressed opposition to what was/is being done to the children of Iraq. It must also be conceded, however, that those involved by-and-large contented themselves with signing petitions and conducting candle-lit prayer vigils, bearing "moral witness" as vast legions of brown-skinned five-year-olds sat shivering in the dark, wide-eyed in horror, whimpering as they expired in the most agonizing ways imaginable. 
Be it said as well, and this is really the crux of it, that the "resistance" expended the bulk of its time and energy harnessed to the systemically-useful task of trying to ensure, as "a principle of moral virtue" that nobody went further than waving signs as a means of "challenging" the patently exterminatory pursuit of Pax Americana. So pure of principle were these "dissidents," in fact, that they began literally to supplant the police in protecting corporations profiting by the carnage against suffering such retaliatory "violence" as having their windows broken by persons less "enlightened" – or perhaps more outraged – than the self-anointed "peacekeepers." 
Property before people, it seems – or at least the equation of property to people – is a value by no means restricted to America's boardrooms. And the sanctimony with which such putrid sentiments are enunciated turns out to be nauseatingly similar, whether mouthed by the CEO of Standard Oil or any of the swarm of comfort zone "pacifists" queuing up to condemn the black block after it ever so slightly disturbed the functioning of business-as-usual in Seattle. 
Small wonder, all-in-all, that people elsewhere in the world – the Mideast, for instance – began to wonder where, exactly, aside from the streets of the US itself, one was to find the peace America's purportedly oppositional peacekeepers claimed they were keeping. 
The answer, surely, was plain enough to anyone unblinded by the kind of delusions engendered by sheer vanity and self-absorption. So, too, were the implications in terms of anything changing, out there, in America's free-fire zones. 
Tellingly, it was at precisely this point – with the genocide in Iraq officially admitted and a public response demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were virtually no Americans, including most of those professing otherwise, doing anything tangible to stop it – that the combat teams which eventually commandeered the aircraft used on September 11 began to infiltrate the United States.

Quote of the day

"If I'm a leftist, it's because, as I think of them, the Ten Commandments is a very left dogma. What is just? What is unjust? That's where it all begins for me," novelist E.L. Doctorow told the New York Times in 1985. "But I tend not to accept any modification of the word novelist. So if you ask, am I a historical novelist, I say no. Am I a political novelist? No. Am I an ethnic novelist? No. I'm a novelist."

'The world's "indispensable nation" '

False Choice

Like a good con man, Brzezinski insists that there is only one alternative to American imperial domination of Eurasia and thus the world. Of course, there is little time to take advantage of this "narrow window of historical opportunity".

"In brief, America as the world's premier power does face a narrow window of historical opportunity. The present moment of relative global peace may be short lived. This prospect underlines the urgent need for an American engagement in the world that is deliberately focused on the enhancement of international geopolitical stability..." - 213

"The sudden emergence of the first and only global power has created a situation in which an equally quick end to its supremacy -- either because of America's withdrawal from the world or because of the sudden emergence of a successful rival -- would produce massive international instability. In effect, it would prompt global anarchy." [emphasis mine] - 30

"In that context, for some time to come -- for more than a generation -- America's status as the world's premier power is unlikely to be contested by any single challenger. No nation-state is likely to match America in the four key dimensions of power (military, economic, technological, and cultural) that cumulatively produce decisive global political clout. Short of a deliberate or unintentional American abdication, the only real alternative to American global leadership in the foreseeable future is international anarchy. In that respect, it is correct to assert that America has become, as President Clinton put it, the world's "indispensable nation." " [emphasis mine] - 195

The Legacy of American Imperialism is United Nations Control

"Accordingly, once American leadership begins to fade, America's current global predominance is unlikely to be replicated by any single state. Thus, the key question for the future is "What will America bequeath to the world as the enduring legacy of its primacy?" " - 210

"Meeting these challenges is America's burden as well as its unique responsibility. Given the reality of American democracy, an effective response will require generating a public understanding of the continuing importance of American power in shaping a widening framework of stable geopolitical cooperation, one that simultaneously averts global anarchy and successfully defers the emergence of a new power challenge. These two goals-- averting global anarchy and impeding the emergence of a power rival-- are inseparable from the longer-range definition of the purpose of America's global engagement, namely, that of forging an enduring framework of global geopolitical cooperation." [emphasis mine] - 214

"In brief, the U.S. policy goal must be unapologetically twofold: to perpetuate America's own dominant position for at least a generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical framework that can absorb the inevitable shocks and strains of social-political change while evolving into the geopolitical core of shared responsibility for peaceful global management. A prolonged phase of gradually expanding cooperation with key Eurasian partners, both stimulated and arbitrated by America, can also help to foster the preconditions for an eventual upgrading of the existing and increasingly antiquated UN [United Nations] structures. A new distribution of responsibilities and privileges can then take into account the changed realities of global power, so drastically different from those of 1945." [emphasis mine] - 215

Question marks over future of U.S.-Japan alliance

Japan is sending warning signals about the state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, but it is questionable whether the Americans get the message. Japanese nervousness about the next U.S. presidency, the direction of the six-party talks on North Korea, and Washington's long-term strategy toward China are easily dismissed as the obsessive sensitivities of the United States' junior ally across the Pacific.

Yet these concerns should be taken more seriously. On a deeper level they reflect a profound fear of abandonment by the United States, which may ultimately lead Tokyo to take steps that hedge against further drift in the alliance. The next administration in Washington, be it Republican or Democratic, should address these concerns head on or risk losing Japan's full support of U.S. leadership over the long run.

After nearly a decade in which the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush went out of its way to reassure Tokyo about the strength of the bilateral alliance, Japanese now see signs that Washington's attention is rapidly fading. The common assumption in Japan is that the next U.S. administration, particularly a Democratic one, will likely accelerate this trend.

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IBM report recommends homeland security-business 'joint effort'

IBM today released a report outlining new risks to people, cargo, global financial and information flows, and modes of transport. The report highlights the complexity and vulnerability of these systems, and provides recommendations for the future.

Based on research and interviews with more than 200 former and current government officials and policy experts, "Global Movement Management: Strengthening Commerce, Security and Resiliency in Today's Networked World," provides detailed recommendations for policymakers, companies, and governments to enhance global economic security and resiliency. The authors challenge public and private organizations to focus on key similarities in their operations and to align their policies and investments in a way that makes performance, security and resiliency a joint effort.

"Our findings indicate that a better understanding of emerging risks makes it possible to improve security and resilience without harming commercial interests," according to W. Scott Gould, Vice President Public Sector Strategy, IBM Global Business Services. "More than ever, governments and businesses need to work together to strengthen critical economic flows -- immigration, cybersecurity, travel, transportation, cargo -- against the risks they face in a world characterized by globalization, technology change, and mutual interdependence."

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Sebastian Mallaby: The real estate crisis is nothing compared to our long-term debt addiction

There are two views of the financial crisis. The first is that we face the bursting of a real estate bubble. The second is that we face the bursting of that bubble plus a terrifying long-term one that has been building since the Reagan era. This second bubble is the product of a quarter-century expansion in borrowing, excessive confidence in the dollar and an overblown faith in markets. Between 1950 and 1980, total lending in the United States inched up slowly relative to the size of the economy. Then, in the early 1980s, it took off. Every dollar of capital was "leveraged" aggressively: Private equity wizards loaded firms with debt; hedge funds bought securities on margin; banks lent prodigiously on thin cushions of capital. All this leverage boosted rewards in good times, because a thin capital cushion means fewer shareholders to divvy up the profits. But a thin capital cushion has the opposite consequence when a shock comes. There are fewer shareholders to absorb losses and still repay lenders. Bankruptcy beckons.

Why have Americans gorged on debt? First, because it has been available. The dollar is the world's reserve currency: Holding a dollar-denominated bond or bank deposit has been thought of as the safest way to store savings. So whenever Americans have wanted to borrow more, the world's savers have been happy to provide the capital.

The second reason Americans gorged on debt was that it didn't seem too risky. Whenever a really big bankruptcy loomed, regulators staged a rescue, cutting the risk of lending to the top players. Without the Fed's intervention, people who lent to Bear Stearns or bought its fancy securities would have been hit with nasty losses. But thanks to the Fed, Bear was the latest in a long line of episodes in which creditors escaped relatively unharmed.

Financial economics has overestimated the efficiency of markets and underestimated their tendency to swing viciously. Along with the authorities' successive rescues and savers' confidence in American assets, this error kept the debt party going.

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Military analysts predict prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq

There is little chance of U.S. troops coming home in the near future, said Cordesman. "When you see the timelines on the [U.S. military's] PowerPoint [charts] when you're in Iraq, they're not 2009; they're 2012, 2014, 2020." He did not expect troop numbers to remain at current levels, but a significant number will remain for several years in "strategic overwatch," working as advisers and providing a backstop to Iraqi troops.

Cordesman said that U.S. efforts to build a central government in Iraq have proved a failure so far. "We've blown through $44 billion in U.S. aid dollars and $33 billion worth of Iraqi money." Yet, "we have no effectiveness measures and no plan to transfer what has been successful to the Iraqi government, which effectively can't spend its own national budget and which has no ability to provide government services, effective police, or criminal justice."

He said there is little chance of improvement in the near term and that the U.S. military has turned its efforts to improving local level governance, "to make up for the fact that we know we can't make the central government effective within the next few years."

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'A reversal of fortunes that the nuclear industry, whose plants emit no greenhouse gases, has been only too happy to exploit'

Anne Lauvergeon (or "Atomic Anne," as the press calls her) is the fourteenth most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes. She owes this rank, and her nickname, to the fact that she heads the French nuclear company Areva. Three weeks ago, Lauvergeon made an appearance at Harvard's Center for the Environment. And, when she strode to the lectern, she set about toying with the expectations of her audience. Where Americans are accustomed to hearing Europeans lambaste their wasteful way of life and degradation of the planet, Lauvergeon took a more counterintuitive approach: "A tribute to your country's essential contribution to the world debate on the crucial issue of climate change!" She continued, "Yes, I want to pay tribute to Vice President Al Gore and his amazing Inconvenient Truth." This unexpected flattery of her host country didn't just make for good theatrics; it hewed to Areva's marketing plan. The nuclear industry, long the bete noire of environmentalists, has experienced a rehabilitation of late, as carbon--rather than radioactive nasties like uranium and plutonium--has become the chief enemy of the green movement. It is a reversal of fortunes that the nuclear industry, whose plants emit no greenhouse gases, has been only too happy to exploit.

France, which gets nearly 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors, has been particularly aggressive in marketing its atomic expertise. Within the span of a few weeks in December and January, President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco, peddling French nuclear technology. And he is in hot pursuit of other markets as well. Late last year, Areva, which is largely state-owned, inked a deal to build two reactors for China, at a cost of $12 billion. India is its next major target; and Indonesia, Argentina, Chile, Vietnam, and Turkey are considering the company's wares, too.

There are many reasons why countries like France would sell nuclear power (to build international prestige, to gain a strategic toehold in the Middle East, to make money) and many reasons why countries would buy it (growing energy demand, national prestige, anxiety over the supply of hydrocarbons from temperamental dictatorships). But, as Atomic Anne's talk at Harvard implied, there's one justification for nuclear power that the industry and its consumers will increasingly deploy to disarm critics: climate change.

While there's good reason to believe some countries intend to harness nuclear power toward green ends, there's also good reason to believe that other nations will use warming as a pretext for less virtuous purposes--namely, to acquire technology that would allow them to build nuclear weapons. And, even as nuclear power spreads to developing countries without such nefarious motives, the increased production of uranium and plutonium will provide new opportunities for would-be terrorists (or profiteers selling to terrorists). Nuclear power may be a necessary, if not sufficient, weapon against planetary apocalypse; but, in hyping its ameliorative properties, we could well open ourselves to a different sort of catastrophe.


'$11.5 trillion of personal wealth held offshore'

From Public loot since 1947: Let us bring back our money by M R Venkatesh

It is one of the biggest loots witnessed by mankind -- the loot of the aam aadmi (common man) since 1947 by his brethren occupying public office.

It has been orchestrated by politicians, bureaucrats and some businessmen. The list is almost all-encompassing. No wonder, everyone in India loots with impunity and without any fear.

[ ... ]

In fact, some finance experts and economists believe tax havens to be a conspiracy of the western world against the poor countries. By allowing the proliferation of tax havens in the twentieth century, the western world explicitly encourages the movement of scarce capital from the developing countries to the rich.

In March 2005, the Tax Justice Network (TJN) published a research finding demonstrating that $11.5 trillion of personal wealth was held offshore by rich individuals across the globe. The findings estimated that a large proportion of this wealth was managed from some 70 tax havens.

Further, augmenting these studies of TJN, Raymond Baker -- in his widely celebrated book titled Capitalism's Achilles Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free Market System -- estimates that at least $5 trillion have been shifted out of poorer countries to the West since the mid-1970s. It is further estimated by experts that one per cent of the world's population holds more than 57 per cent of total global wealth, routing it invariably through these tax havens.

[ ... ]

In fact, elections in India offer a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee to the electorate. As the Hindi saying goes: Hamam mein sab nangey hain (everyone is naked in the bath). No wonder, in India, while democracy facilitates frequent changes of government, the Indian brand of democracy has not been potent enough to tackle the issue of corruption.

And this substantially -- if not wholly explains -- as to why Indians, especially youngsters, are so cynical about political leaders, democratic institutions and even democracy. And this when Barack Obama, the Democratic Party candidate for the US President elections, has along with few other colleagues in the US Senate introduced a bill in early 2007 titled 'Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act.' This Act broadly seeks to:

  • Establish presumptions to combat offshore secrecy to presume that non-publicly traded, offshore corporations and trusts are controlled by US taxpayers, unless the taxpayer proves otherwise;
  • Provide special and sweeping powers to the Treasury authorities to deal with tax havens;
  • Strengthen detection of offshore activities by requiring US financial institutions that open accounts to report such actions to the concerned authorities;
  • Strengthen penalties to deter such activities.

No wonder Obama, despite all the apparent disadvantages, has endeared himself to the electorate in the US.

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There's more blooming than just flower beds

From Canada.com :

This has been coming for a while. Young, fresh designers like Cath Kidston have been showing modern stylized blooms on fabrics and pottery for years, and pop florals by Marimekko are very much back in style.

But this spring the floral craze has really taken hold. The rose motif is everywhere, both in restrained two-colour patterns and riotous multicoloured prints.

[ ... ]

Floral draperies: I never thought I would go there - again. But I am. New bedroom drapes in a non-sweet, two-tone floral pattern would be a great change from the solid linen drapes that even I am tiring of.

Fresh flowers: Emma Goldman said it best: "I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck."

PostModern Times: New Media Promotes Consciousness Change

High-level animation supports cutting-edge thought with the debut of PostModern Times, a series of shorts, or "info- snacks," premiering on the iClips Network, www.iclips.net, produced in association with Curious Pictures. PostModernTimes promotes a new understanding of our world, highlighting practical tools and visionary techniques for a sustainable future -- think "The Simpsons" meets Buckminster Fuller and Aldous Huxley.

The first release, "Consciousness is the Key," features four underground hip hop artists -- Naada, Propaganda Anonymous, 2HL, and iLL SpoKKinN -- and producer euphAmism in an animated music video packing lyrical and graphical punch in a call for global awakening. "Consciousness is the Key" is accompanied by the re-release of "Toward 2012," PostModernTimes' initial episode, a hit on YouTube and CurrentTV. "Toward 2012" dramatizes the controversial ideas of PostModernTimes co-founder Daniel Pinchbeck, bestselling author of "2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl"...

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'The Feminist Porn Awards announce 2008's winners, and Violet Blue wants to know why we can't all just get along'

Feminist porn. For many, seeing those words together is like putting together the words "comfortable flight," "lightly scented" and "Bill O'Reilly: journalist." We now have Jet Blue and Virgin America, not everyone can smell your panty liners, and there's no debate about the irony of the last bit — but pretty much everyone wants to know, what the hell are porn and feminism doing in bed together?

Some pretty nasty, kinky, shocking, and fun things, if the selections from this year's Feminist Porn Awards are any indication. The winners were announced April 7 and included local bondage model (and porn performer, producer, art gallery owner and self-identified feminist) Madison Young (madisonbound.com). Winning Hottest Kink Film for her debut film, the ultra-stylish Madison Bound Production "Bondage Boob Tube," Young summed up her stance on feminism, porn, sex work and the raging debate between anti-porn feminism and pro-porn feminists in her acceptance speech by paraphrasing Emma Goldman: "If I can't f—, it's not my revolution."

The green scare

According to the FBI, "eco-terrorism", or "ecotage", is now the number one domestic terrorism threat in the US, greater than that of rightwing extremists, anti-abortion groups and animal rights organisations, and on a par with al-Qaida. The US building industry, rightwing political groups and the mainstream media all leapt to condemn the ELF after the arson. "We've seen this grow over the years and it's very scary," said Brian Minnich of the Building Industry Association of Washington, which offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the arsonists.

"It tends to be done by young, intelligent people," says FBI special agent Robbie Burroughs. "There is nothing to suggest that [the Street of Dreams arson attack] is anything else than terrorism."

But the jury on the McMansions arson is very much out. Instead of striking fear into the heart of middle America, the incident has revealed growing civil liberty fears about the US government's redefinition of terrorism, and a breakdown of trust in the authorities. Although rightwing commentators and libertarian bloggers have used the attack as ammunition in their ideological war against environmentalists and the left, few others think it is so simple. The more anyone looks into the arson, the more they suspect that it has probably got more to do with fraud or political smearing and dirty tricks than with terrorism.

Letter writers to the Seattle press and websites like Treehugger.com and Grist say it is suspicious that the attack on the McMansions should take place in the middle of America's most serious downturn in the housing market in 30 years, with a recession looming and properties almost impossible to sell. People are deliberately setting fire to their own properties to escape mortgage misery, they say, and only one of the houses on the Street of Dreams is said to have been sold.

Mainstream greens point out that both the fossil fuel industries and US rightwing groups like the "Wise Use movement" have a long history of trying to discredit environmentalists. The advice given to the FBI from nearly every quarter has been: "Follow the money" - implying that the arson was possibly insurance-related. The FBI say it has found nothing to suggest this.

[ ... ]

Remarkably, the attack on the McMansions happened on the same day that Waters' trial was beginning in Oregon. It also just happened that the federal prosecutors immediately and very publicly linked her case to the arson. Depending on who you believe, the attack either worked in the interests of the government, which secured a controversial conviction, or it was a warning shot by other ELF groups that they would not be intimidated by show trials.

Waters is part of what US civil liberty groups are calling an extraordinary witch-hunt being conducted against green activists and animal rights groups, who are being accused of terrorism for arson offences committed before 2001. Most, says Lauren Regan, a lawyer with the Civil Liberties Defence Centre in Eugene, Oregon, have been indicted on the testimony of one man, a former ELF cell leader and self-confessed heroin addict called Jake Ferguson, who has admitted being part of 18 arson attacks linked to the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts between 1997 and 2001. In return for up to $100,000 of state money, says Regan, Ferguson was wired up by the FBI in 2003 to entrap his co-conspirators.

His testimony and activities are said to have led to a cascade of charges levelled at activists around the US. "The government built its case against Waters on the testimony of two informants, and several pieces of circumstantial evidence. The defence argued that the informants - both from relatively wealthy families - pleaded guilty to a minor felony charge and accused her in order to avoid 35-year prison sentences they were threatened with," she says. Of the four others linked to the same firebombing, one is on the run, and another recently died in prison.

According to many, the US is now in the middle of a "Green Scare" akin to the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, when senator Joseph McCarthy launched his infamous communist witch-hunt. Environmental and animal rights activists are being targeted, it is believed, not because they are dangerous, but because in the wake of 9/11 the government needs scapegoats beyond Muslims, and people - often young, white and middle-class - with defined ideologies who target corporate America are easy and attractive game.

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FBI: Eco-Terrorism Remains No. 1 Domestic Terror Threat

For nearly seven years, the nation has turned its terror focus on Al Qaeda and the hunt for Usama bin Laden. But there is a domestic terror threat that federal officials still consider priority No. 1 — eco-terrorism.

The torching of luxury homes in the swank Seattle suburb of Woodinville earlier this month served as a reminder that the decades-long war with militant environmentalists on American soil has not ended.

"It remains what we would probably consider the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat, because they have successfully continued to conduct different types of attacks in and around the country," said FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko.

The FBI defines eco-terrorism "as the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature."

For years, officials have battled against members of shadowy groups such as the Earth Liberation Front and its brother-in-arms, the Animal Liberation Front. Law enforcement has made strides prosecuting cells, but it's been unable to end the arsons that have plagued developments encroaching on rural lands in the West.

FBI estimates place damages from these attacks at well over $100 million. So far, no one has been killed.

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GM crops in Oceania

Speakers at a biotechnology conference in Auckland last week said crop technology was developing fast and the public mood towards genetic modification had changed as the world's population grew and food prices rose.

But GMFree New Zealand says the introduction of GM crops could put our international reputation at risk.

Genetically modified pastures are not banned in New Zealand, but there has yet to be a crop approved for release here.


From: (Oz) Farmers may face legal action over GM crops

MARK COLVIN: Farmers could soon be swapping writs over paddock fences as the battle over the introduction of genetically modified crops moves into the legal system.

Anti-GM farmers are worried that their crops will become contaminated and export markets will dry up.

The Network of Concerned Farmers, which opposed GM crops, is distributing letters to pro-GM farmers, warning them they'll face personal legal action to recover any losses caused by the introduction of the controversial seeds.

But pro-GM farmers say the campaign is nonsense.

Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: It's the latest battle in a long-running war over the introduction of genetically modified crops.

The commonwealth regulator and several state bodies have given the go ahead for the planting of some GM crops, including cotton and canola, but the Network of Concerned Farmers is still not convinced the crops are safe.

Julie Newman is the Network's national spokeswoman.

JULIE NEWMAN: The tests that have been done on genetically modified foods to date, have adverse impacts, including damage to immune systems and increased allergies, development of lesions and/or pre-cancerous growths; unusually enlarged or damaged organs and unexplained deaths. These have been proven by the GM companies themselves.

ASHLEY HALL: The anti-GM farmers want more independent and thorough testing done before the crops are introduced.

Dr Judy Carman of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Adelaide has offered to do that testing, but so far only the West Australian government is prepared to fund it.

JUDY CARMAN: There are no animal tests for allergy, no animal tests for reproductive problems, no animal tests required for any damage to organs for example from long-term consumption of the food. And these really do need to be done.

ASHLEY HALL: But what really concerns the Network of Concerned Farmers is what will happen if their crops are contaminated with genetically modified seed.

They fear it will be impossible for farmers to separate traditional from modified crops, so they'll be unable to sell to customers opposed to GM foods.

And they're worried that if their crops are found to contain GM produce, they'll have to pay royalties to the bio-tech companies which own the patents.

JULIE NEWMAN: We as the polluted have to pay a royalty. So we are expected to pay for getting contaminated. So one seed in our sample - which we will get because contamination will happen - could mean that the GM company has the right, as it does in Brazil, to deduct a user fee.

So automatically every farmer pays a percentage of their income to the GM companies.

ASHLEY HALL: The Network of Concerned Farmers says the biotech companies accept no liability for any contamination or loss of income that might follow.

So the Network is turning its attention to individual farmers, sending them letters, warning that they could face legal action if they plant GM crops and there are problems.

New Soil Association report shows GM crops do not yield more - sometimes less

Coinciding with a manifesto from Country Life launched today, which urges people to 'learn to love GM crops', the Soil Association has published a report on the latest available research on GM crop yields over the last ten years. The yields of all major GM crop varieties in cultivation are lower than, or at best, equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said:
"GM chemical companies constantly claim they have the answer to world hunger while selling products which have never led to overall increases in production, and which have sometimes decreased yields or even led to crop failures. As oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, we need to move away from oil dependent GM crops to producing food sustainably, using renewable energy, as is the case with organic farming."

Latest Research on GM Crop Yields

GM crops as a whole
First generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are in no way intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.
  • An April 2006 report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that "currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. […] In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars". (Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and Caswell, 2006)
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields (FAO, 2004). This is not surprising given that first-generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are not intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.
  • A 2003 report published in Science stated that "in the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative". (Qaim and Zilberman, 2003). This was despite the authors being strong supporters of GM crops.
  • Yields of both GM and conventional varieties vary - sometimes greatly - depending on growing conditions, such as degree of infestation with insects or weeds, weather, region of production, etc. (European Commission, 2000)

Roundup Ready (RR) GM soya
Studies from 1999 - 2007 consistently show RR GM soya to yield 4 – 12% lower than conventional varieties.
  • A 2007 study by Kansas State University agronomist Dr. Barney Gordon suggests that Roundup Ready soya continues to suffer from a yield drag: RR soya yielded 9% less than a close conventional relative.
  • A carefully controlled study by University of Nebraska agronomists found that RR soya varieties yielded 6% less than their closest conventional relatives, and 11% less than high yielding conventional lines (Elmore et al, 2001). This 6% 'yield drag' was attributed to genetic modification, and corresponds to a substantial loss in production of 202 kg/ha.
  • In 1998 several universities carried out a study demonstrating that, on average, RR soy varieties were 4% lower in yield than conventional varieties (Oplinger et al., 1999). These results clearly refuted Monsanto's claim to the contrary (Gianessi, 2000).
  • Yields of GM soybeans are especially low under drought conditions. Due to pleiotropic effects (stems splitting under high temperatures and water stress), GM soybeans suffer 25% higher losses than conventional soybeans( Altieri and Pengue, 2005)
  • 5 studies between 2001 -2007 show that glyphosate applied to Roundup Ready soybeans inhibits the uptake of important nutrients essential to plant health and performance. The resultant mineral deficiencies have been implicated in various problems, from increased disease susceptibility to inhibition of photosynthesis. Thus, the same factors implicated in the GM soya yield drag may also be responsible for increased susceptibility to disease. (Motavalli, et al., 2004; Neumann et al., 2006; King, et al.,2001; Bernards,M.L, 2005; Gordon, B., 2007).
  • The yield drag of RR soya is reflected in flat overall soybean yields from 1995 to 2003, the very years in which GM soya adoption went from nil to 81% of U.S. soybean acreage. By one estimate, stagnating soybean yields in the U.S. cost soybean farmers $1.28 billion in lost revenues from1995 to 2003 (Ron Eliason, 2004).
  • More recent evidence shows that the kilogram per hectare ratio of soybean has been in decline since 2002, leading to the conclusion that RR soy does not have an impact on yield (ABIOVE, 2006a).

Bt Maize
Only maize shows a persistent trend of yield increase into the biotech era, but even here the rate of increase is no greater after than before biotech varieties were introduced.
  • A rigorous, independent study conducted in the U.S. under controlled conditions demonstrated that Bt maize yields anywhere from 12% less to the same as near-isoline (highly similar) conventional varieties (Ma & Subedi, 2005).

Bt Cotton
Despite claims of increased yield, Bt cotton has had no significant impact in real terms.
  • Average cotton yields have increased 5-fold since 1930, and staged an impressive surge from1980 to the early 1990s. Cotton yields then went flat, and continued to stagnate during the seven years of GM cotton's rise to dominance. The steep yield and production increases in 2004 and 2005 were chiefly attributable to excellent weather conditions (Meyer et al., 2007).
  • Bt cotton, introduced to Australia in 1996, has not offered a boost to the cotton sector, and since its adoption has not provided improvements in either yield, or quality (ISAAA, 2006b).
  • Cotton South Africa show constant yield levels before and after adoption of Bt cotton (Witt et al 2005, cited in FoEI Who Benefits 2007), in contradiction to ISAAA claims that Bt has brought about a 24% yield increase in the region.
  • Outbreaks of the secondary pests that are not killed by the Bt insecticide have rendered Bt cotton ineffective in China (Connor, S., July 27, 2006), and are also becoming a problem in North Carolina (Caldwell, D. 2002) and Georgia (Hollis, P.L., 2006).
  • An article in Nature Biotechnology notes that the poor performance of Bt cotton varieties used in India (which were developed for the short U.S. growing season) is linked to the loss of their insecticidal properties late in India's longer growing season, and because Bt cotton insecticide is not expressed in 25% of the cotton bolls of India's preferred hybrid cotton varieties (Jayaraman, K.S., 2005)

During the Government's 2003 'national debate' on whether or not to allow commercial planting of GM crops, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, which represents land agents amongst others, predicted 'long-term chaos' and possible declines in land values if GM crops were planted. [1] Recent research in Sweden has confirmed that GM seeds can remain active in farmland for at least 10-years, adding scientific support to the RICS's concern about the impact on land values of growing GM crops.


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