Thursday, June 5, 2008

Eugenics lobby lives on

The body politic
Q These artworks present very different interpretations of the human body. How are they all connected?
A They are connected together in relationship with the main ideologies that emerged in the 1930s, which were supposed to give man a new form under the name of "the new man." All these ideologies were dreaming of creating a new man free from machination, free from poverty and so on. These ideologies were very influential on the ways artists represented this new body, so this is the main stream of the exhibition.
Q What were these "new men" of the 1930s supposed to be, exactly?
A On one side you have artists like the Surrealists, who were dreaming of man totally free to enjoy the pleasures of flesh and love, and who were dreaming of a body of "convulsive beauty," which means a body in a state of, so to speak, er, permanent orgasm.
On the other side you had the political man who was instead thinking of the new man as a kind of very strong, very severe-looking and very disciplined type of human, often involved in sport.
Another side was creating new body by social regeneration, which was a type of essentially Soviet ideology, to make a new man out of education, chastisement and purification.
And on another side, much more dangerous and criminal, was the Nazi ideology, thinking of creating a racially pure man.
Q How does this come across in the art?
A At the core of the exhibition are two large rooms filled with portraits of individuals, and these portraits are very deeply moving because they represent individuals confronting what is happening at the time. They are also, to me, the most beautiful portraits that were ever made in the art of painting.
If you're showing the plight of the individual, you are also showing something against the growing power of the masses. Because it was really the time when individuals were confronted by the growing power of masses like armies, political groups, sports teams, the 1930s are filled with images of masses parading in the streets or in stadiums, thousands of people that all look the same, like clones - very frightening. So the individual becomes an even more important presence than ever ... even if they feel more lonely than ever.
Q How do these 1930s issues persist in society today?
A I think what should interest people today is the biological undertone of these works. In the 1930s, some wanted men to grow like corn in the fields at time of harvest. Many theoreticians in the Soviet Union and in Germany were interested in breeding the human race like plants.
Now, we are living in a society where eugenics is still very powerful and the problems of eugenics are still very present. We are dreaming again of creating a new man, beautiful, pure and immortal. Illness, death and birth are burning questions again because of the current progress of medicine. This progress is excellent in many ways, but on the other side, we are turning to a new society of eugenics. It's very dangerous.

Of Race and Rockets - Space Pioneer Funds Racist Foundation
An accomplished rocket scientist has become the sole donor to the Pioneer Fund, which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Since 2003, Walter P. Kistler — the founder of Kistler Aerospace, who in 1996 endowed in perpetuity the well-known Bellevue, Wash., science outfit Foundation for the Future — has given $200,000 to the Pioneer Fund. The fund is an organization that has bankrolled many of the leading Anglo-American race scientists of the last several decades as well as anti-immigration groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Californians for Population Stabilization. Kistler told the Intelligence Report he would be happy to donate even more to the Pioneer Fund, which he considers "an institution that has courageously attempted to do research in the field of human differences."
"I am fearless about supporting scientific research in this field," Kistler said. "I am not concerned about battles in society about what is and what is not 'racist.'"
Kistler's donations are the first substantial financial backing Pioneer has received since the Canadian race scientist J. Philippe Rushton took over in 2002 as the organization's president. (Rushton is best known for "research" supposedly showing an inverse relationship between brain and genital size, with blacks being larger in the latter.) Kistler said he holds Rushton "in high regard for the courage he demonstrates in pursuing research in the field of human differences." Prior to Rushton taking the job, the fund was slowly drawing down its resources.
The Pioneer Fund has a long and sordid history. Created in 1937, its original mandate was to pursue "race betterment" by promoting the genetic stock of those "deemed to be descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original thirteen states prior to the adoption of the Constitution." Its original endowment came from Wickliffe Draper, a racist scion of old-stock Protestant gentry who despised unions and helped fund opponents of desegregation in the 1950s. During the 1950s and 1960s, Pioneer grants were given to the International Association for the Advancement of Eugenics and Ethnology, which brought together academic defenders of segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa. Other, more recent grantees included Nobel Laureate William Shockley, a physicist at Stanford best known for his "voluntary sterilization plan" for individuals with IQs below 100.
Kistler, 89, is a Swiss physicist who came to the United States in 1951 and worked on Bell Aircraft's most advanced rocket projects. A pioneer in electric measurement technology using quartz crystals, he later founded several companies, most notably Kistler Instrument Corporation and Kistler Aerospace. Kistler reportedly helped fund the Ansari X Prize to support privately built manned space vehicles, which awarded $10 million in 2004 to SpaceShipOne. He was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1998.
Kistler has long associated with race scientists. In 1999, he traveled to London for meetings of the Galton Society, which was formerly known as the Eugenics Society. (Eugenics is the "science" of improving the human race through selective breeding that was discredited by its strong association with Nazi ideology and the Nazis' murder of the mentally "deficient.") Scheduled to speak there were Arthur Jensen and Glayde Whitney, but protesters shouted down the meeting.
Whitney, who until he died in 2002 was a controversial genetics expert at Florida State University, was also the author of a fawning introduction to David Duke's 1998 racist and anti-Semitic autobiography, My Awakening. Whitney described the former Klansman's 717-page tome as "a painstakingly documented, academically excellent work of socio-biological-political history that has the potential to ... change the very course of history."

The rise and rise of the New Malthusianism
Population is almost always linked to a problem of one kind or another. Historically, most societies regarded people as the source of economic and political power – so for them, the 'population problem' was often not having enough people to work on the land and fight against potential enemies. Consequently, most cultures were pro-natalist; they encouraged people to have large families. Since the emergence of modernity, however, such pro-natalism has been undermined by a new view of population growth as something we should dread. In the nineteenth century, the anti-natalist philosophy of Thomas Malthus inspired a powerful movement for curbing population growth.
The central preoccupation of the Malthusian movement was not simply growth itself, but a fear that the wrong kind of people tend to have the highest fertility rates. The problem, apparently, was one of differential fertility rates; Malthusians were haunted by anxiety that families of the wrong class and the wrong colour might overwhelm those who came from the right stock. Not surprisingly, then, they had a very selective attitude towards population control. They were principally concerned with controlling the population growth of 'other people'. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Malthusian agenda resonated with elites who were concerned about the birth rate of the lower classes. The fear that these classes might outbreed others, and contribute to the degeneration of 'the race', fostered a new eugenic outlook. Eugenics was seen as a science that could improve the human stock by promoting superior races over 'less suitable' ones.
As Matthew Connelly notes in his new book Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, there where two distinct - if not always unconnected - strands to eugenics. One strand promoted racially motivated policies such as forced sterilisation, immigration quotas and, in the case of Nazi Germany, physical extermination of people deemed to be unfit. The other strand, which Connelly refers to as 'reform eugenics', did not 'reject the mainline idea that more privileged socioeconomic and racial groups tended to display more desirable characteristics'. However, it 'simply did not emphasise it'. Instead 'reform eugenics' stressed the 'potential for improved conditions to nurture talent and ability at every social level'.
After the experience of the Second World War, eugenics in its overtly racial form stood discredited. Many of those who had been devoted to pursuing population-growth policies now embraced 'reform eugenics' and rebranded themselves as family planners.
Since the end of Second World War, the population-control lobby has carefully presented itself as a benevolent and technocratic movement. It understands that it can no longer publicly air racial concerns about 'unfit people'. In 1952, William Vogt, a leading figure in the postwar Malthusian movement in America, told his colleagues that 'it is commonly said in the Orient what we want to cut their population because we are afraid of them'. Yet he insisted that the programme of population control 'can be sold on the basis of the mother's health and health of the other children', and 'there will be no trouble getting into foreign countries on that basis'. Fatal Misconception provides numerous examples of how the population-control lobby sought to package its mission as an innocuous public health initiative.
[ ... ]
New trends in Malthusianism
It is important to point out that anxieties about population growth often emerge independently of real demographic trends. The demographic consciousness is not just about apparently tangible 'problems'; indeed, quite often fears that have little to do with demography are expressed through the prism of population. As one American author has noted: 'What is called a demographic problem may better be described as a moral and intellectual problem that takes a demographic form.' (1) At times, racial and elite anxieties and concern about national security or the environment have been discussed through the idea of demography. One weakness of Fatal Misconception is that it isolates the story about the population-control movement from broader social and historical trends. It observes that 'world population growth is slowing, and the Heroic Age of population control appears to be over, at least for now'. And yet, ironically, even though population growth has slowed, Malthusianism has never been as influential as it is today.
Connelly is right to argue that the term 'population control' has been discredited. However, there has never been a time like now when the advocates for reducing population levels have been so brazen and strident. Of course, their arguments are rarely couched in the language of eugenics or race. The theme of 'competitive fertility rates' is only an aside in the contemporary Malthusian narrative: for example, there are still occasional warnings about the rapid growth of Europe's Muslim population and about 'too many old people' weighing down Western societies. Today, most of the warnings about population growth are linked to the campaign to 'save the planet' from a rapidly breeding human species.

Dominic Lawson: We're hiding from the truth: eugenics lives on
There's some good news and some bad news for 92-year old Dr Hans-Joachim Sewering. The good news is that he has just been awarded a medal for "unequalled services in the cause of the independence of the medical profession" by the German Federation of Internal Medicine (BDI). The bad news is that Der Spiegel magazine has not forgotten what it published 30 years ago about Dr Sewering: documents testifying that under the Nazis he had sent children with disabilities to a facility where they were killed as part of a systematic programme of exterminating the mentally and physically handicapped.

The BDI this week refused to respond to Spiegel's renewed claims about Dr Sewering, who now lives in comfortable retirement in the town of, er, Dachau. Dr Sewering continues to insist that he did not cooperate with the Nazis' programme of compulsory eugenic euthanasia. He admits that he was an active member of the SS, but claims that his membership of Hitler's most ruthless paramilitary wing was purely for "social reasons" – the sing-songs, the dressing-up, that sort of thing.

It wasn't necessary to be an enthusiastic Nazi to have some sympathy for the objectives of the campaign to rid Germany of "lebensunwertes Leben" – lives unworthy of living. Hitler had simply taken to a foully logical conclusion the views of then-fashionable eugenicists: after all, Winston Churchill, when Home Secretary in Asquith's Liberal Cabinet in 1910, proclaimed that "the unnatural growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes is a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate. The source from which this stain of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed."

Churchill, of course, was proposing compulsory sterilisation of what he termed "the feeble-minded", not their extermination. Well, that was almost a hundred years ago, people say, whenever his remarks are exhumed. Yet such attitudes survived long after the Nazis' eugenically-inspired crimes against humanity were revealed – and in the most unlikely countries: it was not until 1976 that Sweden abolished laws promoting the sterilisation of women for openly eugenic reasons.

Churchill was unsuccessful in his attempt to introduce such legislation in the UK, which is a cause for some national self-congratulation; but we should not delude ourselves into believing that our legal system, even today, is entirely free from eugenic prejudice. Remnants of it survive in our abortion laws.

Last week the House of Commons agonised over the legal time limits for abortion, in no fewer than 145 speeches on amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Eventually Members of Parliament voted to retain the 24-week limit for legal abortions – the moment when the unborn child is thought to be viable outside the mother's womb.

This was not altogether surprising. When sailing in such turbulent moral waters, it is understandable that most MPs would grab at the rail of "viability"; otherwise there is little to stop the conscientious legislator from being tossed from one side of the boat – any abortion is the unconscionable ending of another's life – to the other: no constraint of any sort should be placed on a woman's "right to choose", right up to the moment when the umbilical cord is cut, whenever that happens to be.

In effect, MPs decided that up to 24 weeks the unborn child has no rights at all – but after that moment its rights are absolute, superseding any wishes the mother might have to terminate the pregnancy. It's a bit weird, if you think about it, but that's the logic of Parliament's decision.

Only there's a big hole in this logic, even on its own terms. The original Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, under Margaret Thatcher's government in 1990, passed into law the notion that if there was a substantial risk that an unborn child could be "seriously handicapped", then there was no limit on the period during which its life, in utero, could be terminated. And there you have it: such rights as are imputed to all "viable" unborn children are absolutely withdrawn if the child is not ... normal.

There was in fact one amendment to this aspect of the law, which was put to the vote last week. It merely stipulated that when such a diagnosis is made, the mother-to-be should be provided with an-up-to-date analysis of the prospects and treatments available for such a child, and details of help-lines run by organisations such as the Down's Syndrome Association (which represents far and away the most common – and most feared – form of congenital disability).

This amendment was conclusively rejected by MPs, by 309 votes to 173. Not only did the great majority support the notion that a disabled unborn child could be terminated right up until 40 weeks' gestation, they didn't even want there to be a legal requirement that such a decision is based on more than an understandable spasm of panic, or even horror.

Lindbergh's deranged quest for immortality
"Some people, even academics and science students, are still shocked when they hear about the contribution that the aviator Lindbergh made to developing life-saving cardiac machinery," says Friedman.

 But there was a serious downside to what Friedman refers to as Lindbergh and Carrel's "daring quest" to live forever.

Carrel was a eugenicist with fascistic leanings. He believed the world was split into superior and inferior beings, and hoped that science would allow the superior - which included himself and Lindbergh, of course - to dominate and eventually weed out the inferiors.

He thought the planet was "encumbered" with people who "should be dead", including "the weak, the diseased, and the fools". Something like Lindbergh's pump was not intended to help the many, but the few.

Lindbergh himself sympathised with the Nazis.

"I wouldn't say Lindbergh was the philosophical partner of Himmler or Hitler," says Friedman. "But yes, he certainly admired the order, science and technology of Nazi Germany - and the idea of creating an ethnically pure race."

Friedman says Lindbergh considered himself a "superior being". "Let's not forget that, as a pilot, he felt he had escaped the chains of mortality. He had had a god-like experience. He flew amongst the clouds, often in a cockpit that was open to the elements. Flying was such a rare experience back then. In taking to the skies, he did something humans have dreamt of for centuries. So it is perhaps not surprising that he ended up trying to play god in a laboratory."

Eugenics American Style
The Associated Press reported on May 5, 2008 that an influential group of physicians has now recommended a sort of laundry-list of individuals who should not be given life-saving medical treatment, in the event of a pandemic. Made up of medical intelligentsia, the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Homeland Security, this reporting body has fingered lives they now consider unworthy should the bottom drop out.

The average person expects that the government will contemplate the "ifs" when it comes to matters of national security and economic instability. But, did we ever expect that a body such as the Department of Homeland Security would consider the ifs in matters of healthcare crises? And, did any of us ever dream that such a department – one we associate with protecting our borders and national resources – would ever poke their collective nose into the business of making medical treatment decisions on the behalf of individual citizens?

Clearly, the government has completely given up any façade of attempting to protect our liberties or personal privacy. Things such as the USA Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the proposed Federal act, HR-1955 make it abundantly clear to anyone reading the news that the government has long since forgotten the benefits of liberty and its unalienable guarantee under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It would seem as though our own government is taking tremendous strides to own the lives, bodies and liberties of its citizenry through its brazen rewriting and indifference for our laws. And, though this report isn't exactly a written law, its message is incredibly ominous.

During the years-long struggle to protect the life of Terri Schiavo (a profoundly brain-injured Florida woman who received nourishment and hydration through a gastric tube), many nationally-known and legally-active disability rights groups argued that hers was a case of trampled privacy and personal liberty. They would contend that it was the state's Circuit Court – and not the Congress – that assaulted Terri's privacy by making medical decisions for her, based on laws passed years after she lost the faculty to consent to such actions. Some supporters of Terri's right to receive ordinary care have also pointed out that the court had ordered the removal of all nourishment and hydration – even if by mouth. This action is illegal under Florida's statutes and hints at the case law that may have been left behind in the wake of the Schiavo matter. In Florida, at least, the supposition seems to be that the state owns your life and your body. The secondary presumption is that the government knows what's best for you – irrespective of your own desires or needs.

By the time the mainstream media finished mangling the aspects of the legal battle and creating theatre of Terri's circumstances, the average viewer – knowing painfully little of the true Constitutional questions of Terri's case – were forced to decide that it was nothing more than folly.

It was a red carpet for the new age of aggressive eugenics.

Any government-sanctioned study or reporting means that would single out certain types of people for care-rationing should raise apprehension in all citizens who value their lives and their privacy. This is surely a injudicious and drunken step backwards into the eugenics the United States saw in the early 1900s and that the Third Reich embraced during their reign over Europe.

The pub-table or coffee-house exchanges that you have may take in the concept that living in a compromised position isn't what you deem a good quality of life. That's fine. Those decisions and opinions are yours. But, when the government encroaches those personally-held views and beliefs, we face the most vulgar demonstration of tyranny there could be. This, after all, embodies losing control of your life at the hands of people who cannot even fix our roads.

Eugenics and the Future of the Human Species

The eugenics debate is only the visible extremity of the Man vs. Nature conundrum. Have we truly conquered nature and extracted ourselves from its determinism? Have we graduated from natural to cultural evolution, from natural to artificial selection, and from genes to memes?

Does the evolutionary process culminate in a being that transcends its genetic baggage, that programs and charts its future, and that allows its weakest and sickest to survive? Supplanting the imperative of the survival of the fittest with a culturally-sensitive principle may be the hallmark of a successful evolution, rather than the beginning of an inexorable decline.

The eugenics movement turns this argument on its head. They accept the premise that the contribution of natural selection to the makeup of future human generations is glacial and negligible. But they reject the conclusion that, having ridden ourselves of its tyranny, we can now let the weak and sick among us survive and multiply. Rather, they propose to replace natural selection with eugenics.

But who, by which authority, and according to what guidelines will administer this man-made culling and decide who is to live and who is to die, who is to breed and who may not? Why select by intelligence and not by courtesy or altruism or church-going - or al of them together? It is here that eugenics fails miserably. Should the criterion be physical, like in ancient Sparta? Should it be mental? Should IQ determine one's fate - or social status or wealth? Different answers yield disparate eugenic programs and target dissimilar groups in the population.

Aren't eugenic criteria liable to be unduly influenced by fashion and cultural bias? Can we agree on a universal eugenic agenda in a world as ethnically and culturally diverse as ours? If we do get it wrong - and the chances are overwhelming - will we not damage our gene pool irreparably and, with it, the future of our species?

And even if many will avoid a slippery slope leading from eugenics to active extermination of "inferior" groups in the general population - can we guarantee that everyone will? How to prevent eugenics from being appropriated by an intrusive, authoritarian, or even murderous state?

New Legislation Calls for Government Ownership of DNA
"We are considered guinea pigs, as opposed to human beings with rights," according to Twila Brase, president of the Citizen's Council on Health Care, a Minnesota based organization. "The Senate just voted to strip citizens of parental rights, privacy rights, patient rights and DNA property rights. They voted to make every citizen a research subject of the state government starting at birth," she said. "They voted to let the government create genetic profiles of every citizen without their consent."

Brase warned that the ultimate outcome of such DNA databases could spark the next wave of demands for eugenics, the science of improving the human race through the control of various inherited traits. The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, who brought us the message of "choice" about reproductive freedom, was one of the original advocates of eugenics to cull from the population people considered unfit.

In 1921 Sanger said that eugenics is "the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems". She later lamented "the ever increasing, unceasingly spawning of human beings who never should have been born at all".

Minnesota lawmakers recently endorsed a proposal that would exempt stockpiles of DNA information already collected from every newborn from any type of consent requirements. If approved, researchers would be able to utilize the DNA of more than 780,000 Minnesota children for whatever research project they have in mind, according to Brase.

The DNA of every newborn will be collected at birth and "warehoused in a state genomic biobank, and given away to genetic researchers without parental consent, or in adulthood, without the individual's consent. Already, the health department reports that 42,210 children have been subjected to genetic research without their consent," Brase told World Net Daily.

Although Brase works with Minnesota issues, similar laws, rules and regulations are already in use across the country. Lists of the various statutes or regulatory provisions under which the newborns' DNA is collected for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, can be found in The National Conference of State Legislatures.

These programs are the result of "screening" requirements for the detection of treatable illnesses. Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., wants to turn these programs into a consolidated national effort. "Fortunately, some newborn screening occurs in every state but fewer than half of the states including Connecticut actually test for all disorders that are detectable," according to Dodd who sees this legislation as providing resources for states to expand their newborn screening programs.

The problem of all this for Brase is that "researchers already are looking for genes related to violence, crime, and different behaviors... This isn't just about diabetes, asthma and cancer," she said. "It's also about behavioral issues. In England they decided they should have doctors looking for problem children, and have those children reported, and their DNA taken in case they would become criminals."

A senior police forensics expert believes that genetic samples should be studied because identification of potential criminals as young as age 5 may be identified, according to a UK published report. "If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large," according to Gary Pugh, director of forensics at Scotland Yard. "You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won't. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threats to society."

The UK database is already the largest in Europe with 4.5 million genetic samples, but activists want it expanded. Costs and logistics make it impossible right now to demand everyone provide a DNA sample, Pugh said.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is being suggested for targeted children from 5-12 in the UK, says the Institute for Public Policy Research. Pugh has suggested adding children to this database in primary schools, even if they have not offended.

Although Chris Davis, of the National Primary Head Teacher's Association, warns the move could be seen as "a step towards a police state", Pugh says the UK's annual cost of $26 billion from violent crime makes it well worth the effort.

Brase sees such efforts to study the traits and gene factors across the board as just the beginning. She wonders what could happen through subsequent programs to address such conditions. "Not all research is great," she said. "There is research that is highly objectionable into the genetic propensities of an individual. Not all research should be hailed as wonderful initiatives."
~ and, on the lighter side... ~

Story of evolution can be seen as comedy of errors (The Ancient Hiccup, Male Hernias, and more)
"Oh what a piece of work is man," wrote Shakespeare, long before Darwin suggested just how little work went into us. Somehow, that same process that gave us reason, language and art also left us with hernias, flatulence and hiccups.
One argument scientists often make against so-called intelligent design — the idea that evolution cannot by itself explain life — is that on closer inspection, we look like we've been put together by someone who didn't read the manual, or at least did a somewhat sloppy job of things.
Viewed as products of evolution, however, our anatomical quirks start to make sense, says University of Chicago fossil hunter and anatomy professor Neil Shubin, author of the recent book Your Inner Fish. And by focusing on our less lofty traits, evolutionary biology can help dispel one of the most egregious and even tragic fallacies surrounding Darwinian evolution — that it moves toward perfection, with man at the apex of some towering ladder.
[ ... ]

Fishy news about hernias
Our descent from fish explains why men are so much more prone to hernias than women. In fish, Shubin explains, the testicles lie up near the heart.
(Had they remained there, he said, it would give a whole new meaning to the Pledge of Allegiance.)
The budding gonads still form up high in a human embryo, but male mammals reproduce better with their sperm kept a bit cooler than body temperature. And so during gestation, human testicles take an incredible journey down through the body to their destination in the scrotum.
The trip downward puts a loop in the cord that connects the testes to the penis, leaving a weakness in the body wall where the cord attaches that never quite repairs itself.
Hence the trouble with hernias down the road.
The matter of milk
No good story about human design flaws can pass up a discussion of flatulence — and science has addressed the kind that would occur if everyone in the world drank a tall glass of milk at the same time.
Geneticist Pragna Patel of the University of Southern California said one of her favorite examples of evolution in progress involves the gene that determines who can digest the sugars in milk and who cannot.
From genetic studies it appears that so-called lactose intolerance was our ancestral state.
A few people, however, were genetically gifted with an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose, and in groups that started drinking lots of milk around 10,000 years ago, that version of the gene started to take over.
Scientists recently sequenced the lactase gene and found 43 different variations that allow adults to drink the milk of other animals.
"It's the first clear evidence of convergent evolution," Patel said, though it's not known whether those lacking this innovation failed to pass on their genes because they suffered from lack of nutrition or just didn't get invited to any parties.

Global Suicide Pact: Amish Takeover

If the biofuels, the already-worsening climate, and the spread of pest and crop disease weren't bad enough, we're also starving people out preemptively as we do other things to magnify these problems. Consider that what we're doing right now in Iraq, ending their system of seed saving in favor of forcing them to buy agribusiness' seed that can't be saved either by law or by design, has been done incrementally in many developing nations.

The food distributors that run the world market often only take certain varieties of crop, which means that farmers are forced to abandon crops suited to local growing conditions and buy often unsavable seed that requires a lot of extra water, pesticides, fertilizers and work, as compared to the old varieties.

This runs a lot of farmers out of business, which means even more families that have to buy food instead of growing it, and then when per capita supplies get crunched, they have an even harder time buying it. This also often means that their land gets turned into single-cropped, industrial farm land, which makes that patch of ground rapidly emit carbon stored in the soil as carbon dioxide, store less carbon in biomass (living tissue), and increase demand for greenhouse gas-intensive pesticides and fertilizers. You can see how this can make the climate crisis worse, which makes the other problems worse, which makes the food supply problem worse, which … you get the picture.

And if it weren't so serious, it would be funny. Because tropical kitchen gardens, and traditional farming methods that grow a lot of crops on the same ground, store a lot of carbon in the soil and biomass, while also yielding more total food per acre than industrial agriculture. Funny. Ha, ha.

Right about now, you're probably wondering what you can do. This is about that point, right? I've told you it's happening now. I've told you it's big and scary. I did say there were solutions, which there are.

However, I didn't write this tonight in order to advise you on who to write a letter to, or what sort of appliances to buy, or where to shop for your food. We'll save that for another time, perhaps.

Nor did I write this in order to cause you to despair of your fellow citizens. Because they're waking up all over to our peak habitat problem. They get it, even though the politicians don't.

And that, at last, is what I hope you take away from this. This is a battle of minds and attitudes between that majority of the public who wants to do the right thing and the status quo power brokers who act like money is something people could eat, who act as though we should move from civilization to a war of all against all, as they say.

I want you to remember, when you hear the deniers and the delayers, that they're attempting to make us all commit species suicide. To starve the vast majority of us out. That basically means they're nuts. People who are nuts are also sometimes very good at making arguments and defending their positions. They can communicate with other people just fine, it's only that they've stopped communicating with the facts.

~ more... ~


Commission adopts code of conduct for EU lobbyists

The European Commission has adopted a code of conduct regulating lobbyists' behaviour as a forerunner to the voluntary register to be launched by Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas on 23 June.

The 'Code of Conduct for Interest Representatives', officially adopted on 28 May, contains "clear and precise rules" for lobbyists to follow in their relations with Commission staff, according to the EU executive. 

In doing so, it sets out general principles like "openness, honesty and integrity" to be adhered to when dealing with the Commission. 

"This is not about the Commission telling lobbyists how to behave," stressed Commissioner Kallas. "In fact, we have only consolidated in one text the principles the profession itself already adheres to." 

Lobbyists intending to participate in the EU executive's upcoming lobbyists register will be required to accept the terms of the accompanying code of conduct for interest representatives. What's new, said Kallas, is that "all lobbyists commit to the same code and accept that their adherence to [it] be subject to independent scrutiny, enforcement and sanctions". 

The adopted code calls on those lobbying the Commission to: 

  • Identify themselves by name and by the entity(ies) they work for or represent; 
  • Not misrepresent themselves as to the effect of registration to mislead third parties and/or EU staff; 
  • Declare the interests, and where applicable the clients or the members, which they represent; 
  • Ensure that, to the best of their knowledge, information which they provide is unbiased, complete, up-to-date and not misleading; 
  • Not obtain or try to obtain information, or any decision, dishonestly; 
  • Not induce EU staff to contravene rules and standards of behaviour applicable to them; 
  • If employing former EU staff, respect their obligation to abide by the rules and confidentiality requirements which apply to them. 

The code of conduct is intended to complement the lobbyists register the Commission is set to publish on 23 June and constitutes part of the wider transparency initiative launched by Vice President Kallas in 2005. 

~ EurActiv ~


European watchdog attacks cloak of secrecy in Brussels

A shroud of secrecy will be drawn over the workings of the European Union under new proposals to limit access to documents and in some cases deny that they even exist, the European Ombudsman cautioned in a strongly worded attack yesterday.

MEPs were called on by the watchdog to stand up for openness in Brussels and oppose an attempt by the European Commission to reclassify which documents are available for public scrutiny.

Plans to withhold papers unless they are formally listed in a new register of documents would deny access to important material and break promises of transparency made under the new Lisbon treaty, the watchdog said.

The changes are being debated under a proposed directive that Margot Wallstrom, the EU Information Commissioner, says is needed to make the rules less vague but which her critics fear will plunge the EU into another secrecy row.

This year the European Parliament refused to release an auditor's report on widespread abuse of expenses. It can be read only by a small group of MEPs who must go into a secret room and swear not to take notes or talk about the contents.

"The Commission's proposals would mean access to fewer, not more, documents," said Nikiforos Diamandouros, the Ombudsman, at a hearing in the European Parliament. "This raises fundamental issues of principle about the EU's commitment to openness and transparency."

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Imperial Dream Deferred

May 22, 2008

[Introduction by Tom Engelhardt]

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, with its 225,000 or more deaths in 11 countries, shocked the world; so, in recent weeks, has the devastation wrought by a powerful cyclone (and tidal surge) that hit the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar. It resulted in at least 78,000 deaths (with another 56,000 reported missing) and a display of recalcitrance on the part of a military junta focused on its own security while its people perish. Similarly, a devastating earthquake in China's Sichuan Province that hit 7.9 on the Richter scale and whose tremors were felt 1,000 miles away has swept into the news. Its casualty count has already reached 51,000 with unknown numbers of Chinese still buried in rubble or cut off in rural areas and so, as yet, untallied, and an estimated five million people homeless.

These are staggering natural disasters, hard even to take in, and yet it's a reasonable question whether, in terms of damage, any of them measure up to the ongoing human-made (or rather Bush administration made) disaster in Iraq. Worse yet, unlike a natural disaster, the Iraqi catastrophe seems to be without end. No one can even guess when it might be said of that country that an era of reconstruction or rebuilding is about to begin. Instead, the damage only grows week by miserable week and yet, as has often been true in the last year, Iraq continues to have trouble even cracking the top ten stories in U.S. news coverage.

Just this week, Iraqi troops moved into the vast, battered Shiite suburb of Sadr City in east Baghdad after weeks of fierce fighting. The first descriptions of the damage—U.S. air power was regularly called in over the last months in this heavily populated slum area—are devastating: "As I moved into the neighborhood," writes Raheem Salman of the Los Angeles Times online, "the destruction from weeks of fighting was horrible. Most of the shops and kiosks have been damaged. Doors are knocked off their hinges. Windows are shattered. The walls are riddled with bullet holes. Some buildings are blown apart by missile fire."

But then Iraq itself is a devastation zone. From the first shock-and-awe attacks on Baghdad as the Bush administration's invasion began in March 2003—which killed only civilians—and the early bombing, missiling, shelling, and even cluster bombing of urban areas as the invading U.S. military barreled north, death, chaos, and destruction have been the Bush administration's tidal surge in Iraq. By now, an estimated 4.7 million Iraqis are either refugees abroad or internally displaced and, depending upon which study or whose numbers you use, hundreds of thousands to a million or more Iraqis have died in the last five years. There is, of course, simply no way to measure the mental stress and anguish that those same years have inflicted on Iraqis.

The New York Times recently profiled a psychiatrist working with hopelessly antiquated equipment amid a tide of desperate, wounded humanity at Ibn Rushid, a psychiatric hospital in Baghdad. It's now a run-down hulk from which seven of its 11 staff psychiatrists have fled—either for Kurdish areas to the north or abroad—fearing kidnapping or assassination. In some hospitals and universities in Baghdad, staff has reportedly been reduced by 80%. The economy is in tatters; governmental authority hardly exists; disease is rampant; the medical system in ruins; significant parts of the middle class gone; militias in control; and still, amid this rolling, roiling catastrophe, the Bush administration adamantly persists in its course.

Much scorn has rightly been poured on the junta in Myanmar recently, but, when it comes to recalcitrance and putting self-interest ahead of the well-being of masses of desperate souls, the American President, Vice President, and their top officials have proven themselves a planetary junta of the first order. When it comes to Iraq, to this very day, they remain obdurate and well-defended from the results of the human version of the 7.9 quake they let loose on that country.

Back in January 2005, considering the Indian Ocean tsunami, Rebecca Solnit wrote at this site: "You can say in some ways that what has happened in Iraq is a tsunami that swept ten thousand miles from the epicenter of an earthquake in Washington DC, an earthquake in policy and principle that has devastated countless lives and environments and cities far away…" But this has not exactly been a popular image in the American mainstream media; and so, in recent weeks, no one has even thought to connect our ongoing Iraqi disaster to the natural disasters in Asia, or the acts of the Burmese junta to those of our own leaders in relation to Iraq. After all, we are largely inured to, and generally oblivious to, the ongoing harm for which we are responsible.

And yet, as Michael Schwartz points out, Iraqi resistance to Bush's desires and designs predictably continues. This sort of resistance has been with us at least since the Catholic peasants of Spain—the Sunni fundamentalists of their day—resisted, and finally defeated, Napoleon's army, the finest in Europe at the time. And to judge by Francisco Goya's famous series of aquatints, The Disasters of War, you would no more have wanted to meet those peasants in a back alley than you would many of the resisters in Iraq today.

Schwartz, whose original and canny analyses of Iraq have long been part of Tomdispatch, has now built on that work to create a striking new book, War Without End, which will soon be published. This piece on how a nation of 26 million managed to resist the planet's "sole superpower"—and the price it paid—is adapted from that book's conclusion. Tom Engelhardt

Imperial Dream Deferred
It is past time for the rest of the world to shoulder at least a small share of the burden of resistance.
By Michael Schwartz

On February 15, 2003, ordinary citizens around the world poured into the streets to protest George W. Bush's onrushing invasion of Iraq. Demonstrations took place in large cities and small towns globally, including a small but spirited protest at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Up to 30 million people, who sensed impending catastrophe, participated in what Rebecca Solnit, that apostle of popular hope, has called "the biggest and most widespread collective protest the world has ever seen."

The first glancing assessment of history branded this remarkable planetary protest a record-breaking failure, since the Bush administration, less than one month later, ordered U.S. troops across the Kuwaiti border and on to Baghdad.

And it has since largely been forgotten, or perhaps better put, obliterated from official and media memory. Yet popular protest is more like a river than a storm; it keeps flowing into new areas, carrying pieces of its earlier life into other realms. We rarely know its consequences until many years afterward, when, if we're lucky, we finally sort out its meandering path. Speaking for the protesters back in May 2003, only a month after U.S. troops entered the Iraqi capital, Solnit offered the following:

"We will likely never know, but it seems that the Bush administration decided against the 'Shock and Awe' saturation bombing of Baghdad because we made it clear that the cost in world opinion and civil unrest would be too high. We millions may have saved a few thousand or a few tens of thousand of lives. The global debate about the war delayed it for months, months that perhaps gave many Iraqis time to lay in stores, evacuate, brace for the onslaught."

Whatever history ultimately concludes about that unexpected moment of protest, once the war began, other forms of resistance arose—mainly in Iraq itself—that were equally unexpected. And their effects on the larger goals of Bush administration planners can be more easily traced. Think of it this way: In a land the size of California with but 26 million people, a ragtag collection of Baathists, fundamentalists, former military men, union organizers, democratic secularists, local tribal leaders, and politically active clerics—often at each others throats (quite literally)—nonetheless managed to thwart the plans of the self-proclaimed New Rome, the "hyperpower" and "global sheriff" of Planet Earth. And that, even in the first glancing assessment of history, may indeed prove historic.

The New American Century Goes Missing in Action

It's hard now even to recall the original vision George W. Bush and his top officials had of how the conquest of Iraq would unfold as an episode in the President's Global War on Terror. In their minds, the invasion was sure to yield a quick victory, to be followed by the creation of a client state that would house crucial "enduring" U.S. military bases from which Washington would project power throughout what they liked to term "the Greater Middle East."

In addition, Iraq was quickly going to become a free-market paradise, replete with privatized oil flowing at record rates onto the world market. Like falling dominos, Syria and Iran, cowed by such a demonstration of American might, would follow suit, either from additional military thrusts or because their regimes—and those of up to 60 countries worldwide—would appreciate the futility of resisting Washington's demands. Eventually, the "unipolar moment" of U.S. global hegemony that the collapse of the Soviet Union had initiated would be extended into a "New American Century" (along with a generational Pax Republicana at home).

This vision is now, of course, long gone, largely thanks to unexpected and tenacious resistance of every sort within Iraq. This resistance consisted of far more than the initial Sunni insurgency that tied down what Donald Rumsfeld pridefully labeled "the greatest military force on the face of the earth." It is already none too rash a statement to suggest that, at all levels of society, usually at great sacrifice, the Iraqi people frustrated the imperial designs of a superpower.

Consider, for example, the myriad ways in which the Iraqi Sunnis resisted the occupation of their country from almost the moment the Bush administration's intention to fully dismantle Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime became clear. The largely Sunni city of Falluja, like most other communities around the country, spontaneously formed a new government based on local clerical and tribal structures. Like many of these cities, it avoided the worst of the post-invasion looting by encouraging the formation of local militias to police the community. Ironically, the orgy of looting that took place in Baghdad was, at least in part, a consequence of the U.S. military presence, which delayed the creation of such militias there. Eventually, however, sectarian militias brought a modicum of order even to Baghdad.

In Falluja and elsewhere, these same militias soon became effective instruments for reducing, and—for a time—eliminating, the presence of the U.S. military. For the better part of a year, faced with IEDs and ambushes from insurgents, the U.S. military declared Falluja a "no go" zone, withdrew to bases outside the city, and discontinued violent incursions into hostile neighborhoods. This retreat was matched in many other cities and towns. The absence of patrols by occupation forces saved tens of thousands of "suspected insurgents" from the often deadly violence of home invasions, and their relatives from wrecked homes and detained family members.

Even the most successful of U.S. military adventures in that period, the second battle of Falluja in November 2004, could also be seen, from quite a different perspective, as a successful act of resistance. Because the United States was required to mass a significant proportion of its combat brigades for the offensive (even transferring British troops from the south to perform logistical duties), most other cities were left alone. Many of these cities used this respite from the U.S. military to establish, or consolidate, autonomous governments or quasi-governments and defensive militias, making it all the more difficult for the occupation to control them.

Falluja itself was, of course, destroyed, with 70% of its buildings turned to rubble, and tens of thousands of its residents permanently displaced—an extreme sacrifice that had the unexpected effect of taking pressure off other Iraqi cities for a while. In fact, the ferocity of the resistance in the predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq forced the American military to wait almost four years before renewing their initial 2004 efforts to pacify the well-organized Sadrist-led resistance in the predominantly Shia areas of the country.

The Rebellion of the Oil Workers

In another arena entirely, consider the Bush administration's dreams of harnessing Iraqi oil production to its foreign policy ambitions. The immediate goals, as American planners saw it, were to double prewar output and begin the process of transferring control of production from state ownership to foreign companies. Three major energy initiatives designed to accomplish these goals have so far been frustrated by resistance from virtually every segment of Iraqi society. Iraq's well-organized oil workers played a key role in this by using their ability to bring production to a virtual stand-still in order to abort the transfer—only a few months after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein's regime—of the operation of the southern oil port of Basra to the management of then-Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

This and other early acts of labor defiance turned back the initial assault on the Iraqi government-controlled system of oil production. Such acts also laid a foundation for successful efforts to prevent the passage of oil policies shaped in Washington that were designed to transfer control of energy exploration and production to foreign companies. In these efforts, the oil workers were joined by both Sunni and Shia resistance groups, local governments, and finally the new national parliament.

This same sort of resistance extended to the whole roster of neoliberal reforms sponsored by the U.S.-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). From the beginning of the occupation, for instance, there were protests against mass unemployment caused by the dismantling of the Baathist state and the shuttering of state-owned factories. Much of the armed resistance was a response to the occupation's early violent suppression of these protests.

Even more significant were local efforts to replace the government services discontinued by the CPA. The same local quasi-governments that had nurtured the militias sought to sustain or replace Baathist social programs, often by siphoning off oil destined for export onto the black-market to pay for local services, and hoarding local resources such as electrical generation. The result would be the creation of virtual city-states wherever U.S. troops were not present, leading to the inability of the occupation to "pacify" any substantial portion of the country.

The Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army militia of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was probably the most successful—and most anti-occupation—of the Shia political parties-cum-militias that systematically sought to develop quasi-government organizations. They tried to meet, however minimally, some of the basic needs of their communities, supplying food baskets, housing services, and serving a host of other functions previously promised by the Baathist government, but forsworn by the U.S. occupation and the Iraqi government that the United States installed when "handing over" sovereignty in June 2004.

The American occupationaires expected that their plans for the rapid privatization and transformation of the state-driven economy would indeed generate resistance, but they were convinced that this would subside quickly once the new economy kicked into gear. Instead, as the occupation wore on, demands for relief grew more strident and insistent, while the country itself, in chaos and near collapse, became visible evidence of the failure of the Bush administration's "free market" policies.

An Iraqi Agenda for Withdrawal

Occupation officials faced the same dilemma in the political realm. The original goal of the Bush administration was a stable, pro-Washington government, stripped of its economic and political dominance over Iraqi society, but a bastion of resistance to Iranian regional power. This vision, like its military and economic cousins, has long since disappeared under the weight of Iraqi resistance.

Take, for example, the two high profile Iraqi elections, celebrated in the mainstream American media as a unique Bush administration accomplishment in the otherwise relentlessly autocratic Middle East. Inside Iraq, however, they had quite a different look. It is important to remember that the United States initially planned to sustain its direct rule—the Coalition Provisional Authority—until the country was fully pacified and its economic reforms completed. When the CPA became a hated symbol of an unwanted occupation, planning shifted to the idea of installing an appointed Iraqi government, based on community meetings that only supporters of the occupation could attend. Full-scale elections would be postponed until winners fully supportive of the Bush agenda were assured. An outpouring of protest from the predominantly Shia areas of the country, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, forced CPA administrators to move on to an election-based strategy.

The first election in January 2005 delivered a sizeable parliamentary majority voted in on platforms calling for strict timetables for a full U.S. military withdrawal from the country. American representatives then forcefully pressured the newly installed cabinet to abandon this position.

The second parliamentary election in December 2005 followed a similar pattern. This time, the backroom bargaining was only partially effective. The newly installed prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, reneged on his campaign promises by publicly supporting an ongoing American military presence, which caused deep fissures in the ruling coalition. After a year of unproductive negotiations, the 30 Sadrists in parliament, originally a key part of Maliki's ruling coalition, withdrew from both that coalition and the cabinet in protest over the prime minister's refusal to set a date for the end of the occupation. Subsequent parliamentary demands for a date certain for withdrawal were ignored by both the government and U.S. officials. While Maliki continued in office without a parliamentary majority, the controversy contributed to the soaring popularity of the Sadrists and waning support for the other Shiite governing parties.

By early 2008, with provincial elections looming in November, there was little doubt that the Sadrists would sweep to power in many predominantly Shia provinces, most critically Basra, Iraq's second largest city and southern oil hub. To prevent this debacle, Iraqi government troops, supported and advised by the U.S. military, sought to expel the Sadrists from key areas of Basra.

This use of military force to prevent electoral defeat was only one of many indications that the Iraqi government was feeling the pressure of public opinion. Another was the reluctance of Prime Minister Maliki to maintain an antagonistic stance toward Iran. Despite fervent Bush administration efforts, his government has promoted social, religious, and economic relationships between Iraqis and Iranians. These included facilitating visits to the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf by hundreds of thousands of Iranian Shia pilgrims, as well as supporting extensive oil transactions between Basra and Iranian firms, including distribution and refining services that promised to integrate the two energy economies. A formal military relationship between the two countries was vetoed by U.S. authorities, but this did not reverse the tide of cooperation.

The River of Resistance

As the occupation wore on, the Bush administration found itself swimming against a tide of resistance of a previously unimaginable sort, and ever further from its goals. Today, cities and towns around the country are largely under the sway of Shia or Sunni militias which, even when trained or paid by the occupation, remain militantly opposed to the U.S. presence. Moreover, though the prostrate Iraqi economy has been formally privatized, these local militias—and the political leaders they worked with—continue to raise demands for vast government-funded reconstruction and economic development programs.

The formal political leadership of Iraq, locked inside the heavily fortified, U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad, remains publicly compliant when it comes to Bush administration plans to transform Iraq into a Middle Eastern outpost—including the continued presence of American troops on a series of mega-bases in the heart of the country. The rest of the government bureaucracy and the bulk of Iraq's grass roots are increasingly insistent on an early American departure date and a full-scale reversal of the economic policies first introduced by the occupation.

In Washington, for Democratic as well as Republican politicians, the outpost idea remains at the heart of the policy agenda for Iraq in this election year, along with a neoliberal economy featuring a modernized oil sector in which multinational firms are to use state-of-the-art technology to maximize the country's lagging oil production.

Iraqi resistance of every kind and on every level has, however, prevented this vision from becoming reality. Because of the Iraqis, the glorious sounding Global War on Terror has been transformed into an endless, hopeless actual war.

But the Iraqis have paid a terrible price for resisting. The invasion and the social and economic policies that accompanied it have destroyed Iraq, leaving its people essentially destitute. In the first five years of this endless war, Iraqis have suffered more for resisting than if they had accepted and endured American military and economic dominance. Whether consciously or not, they have sacrificed themselves to halt Washington's projected military and economic march through the oil-rich Middle East on the path to a new American Century that now will never be.

It is past time for the rest of the world to shoulder at least a small share of the burden of resistance. Just as the worldwide protests before the war were among the upstream sources of the Iraqi resistance-to-come, so now others, especially Americans, should resist the very idea that Iraq could ever become the headquarters for a permanent United States presence that would, in the words of Bush speechwriter David Frum, "put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans." Unlike the Iraqis, after all, the citizens of the United States are uniquely positioned to bury this imperial dream for all time.


Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency. His analyses of America's Iraq have appeared regularly at, as well as Asia Times, Mother Jones, and Contexts. His forthcoming Tomdispatch book, War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context (Haymarket, June 2008) explores how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war.

~ Tom Dispatch ~


'Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders'

Some of the guards there would tell us, "Y'all get up there at Parchman, they're gonna straighten you all out. And there ain't no Robert Kennedy or John Kennedy gonna do anything about it." And people began to think that.

But me and lots of the other folks didn't buy it. When we get there, we're still going to do things our way. But the dehumanizing process started as soon as we got there. We were told to strip naked and then walked down this long corridor. For some of us who were born and bred in the South and used to go skinny-dipping, it was no big deal. But I'll never forget Jim Farmer, a very dignified man. And here he is walking down this long corridor naked. That is dehumanizing. And that was the whole purpose.

[ ... ]

The ride between Jackson and Parchman took about four hours, and was more frightening than any previous part of the jail experience. There were twenty-three girls, white and black, crowded into an army-transport type truck, which was completely lacking in springs. Many of us had black-and-blue marks when we arrived, because the drivers delighted in stopping and staring suddenly, throwing us against each other and the sharp corners of the seats.

But the most terrifying part of the ride was the three times when the drive suddenly jolted off to the side of the highway and stopped. We imagined every horror, including an ambush by the KKK. I suppose they were just waiting for our escort of state police and FBI to catch up, or something equally innocent, but until we were moving again, none of us breathed an easy breath.

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IRAQ: General denies being influenced in war crimes cases

A four-star general Monday repeatedly denied being influenced by any outside forces in bringing charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani resulting from the 2005 killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha.

Under questioning from Chessani's defense attorney, Gen. James Mattis (pictured) said he was never contacted by anyone from the Pentagon, Congress, the secretary of the Navy's office or Marine headquarters about the Haditha case.

Mattis said he was unconcerned that he might be criticized in the press for his handling of the case.

"I've already been drawn and quartered in enough newspaper articles that I was uninterested in that sort of thing," he said at a motions hearing for Chessani.

Chessani, who was the battalion commander, is charged with dereliction of duty for not ordering a more thorough examination after the Nov. 19, 2005, killings. The military started an investigation only after an expose in Time magazine.

Defense lawyers want the case dropped because of "undue command influence" -- arguing, in effect, that Mattis was pressured into bringing charges to mollify critics of the Iraq war in Congress and the press.

Col. Steven Folsom, the trial judge, delayed making a decision until later in the week. Chessani's trial is set to begin June 16 at Camp Pendleton. He is the highest-ranking Marine to face charges of misconduct in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Under questioning from defense attorney Robert Muise, Mattis also denied there was anything improper about permitting a Marine lawyer involved in the initial investigation into the Haditha killings to attend meetings in his office where the case was discussed before the preliminary hearing.

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'Whole state' behind Darfur crime

The "whole state apparatus" of Sudan is implicated in crimes against humanity in Darfur, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor has said.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo's report into the crisis in western Sudan, due on Thursday, coincides with a visit to the region by the UN Security Council.

Sudan's ambassador to the UN said the comments were "fictitious and vicious" and harmful to the prospects of peace.

The UN ambassadors are in the country to try to end the conflict.

In the report on the situation in Sudan, to be delivered to the UN Security Council, Mr Moreno-Ocampo repeats his earlier call for the council to demand that Sudan hand over two men who face charges of crimes against humanity.

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US puts India, China on watch list over human trafficking

The United States has placed India and China on watch list for not doing enough to fight human trafficking and claimed that part of the enormous economic growth in the developing countries is being fuelled by bonded labour.

The Indian government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for elimination of trafficking, it said but conceded that New Delhi is making "significant efforts" to fight bonded labour.

A new report released by the State Department showed yesterday that the most dismal record is of the US' Persian Gulf friends including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman who complete with Iran, North Korea and Myanmar for failure to stop human trafficking or take action against traffickers.

Equally dismal was the record of Sudan, Syria, Myanmar, Cuba, Fiji, Moldova and Papua New Guinea, according to grading done by the annual report.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka were somewhat better off as they were placed countries that do take steps to fight it -- Tier 2, second of the three categories in which the countries have been divided.

In India, the report said, clothing and brick making are two major booming industries in which forced labour, debt bondage and hazard conditions are common. Bracketed with India in clothing sector are Bangladesh, Jordan and Malaysia. Similar conditions exist in shrimp industry in Thailand, it says. For brick making, India and China were bracketed.

It slammed China "works and study" Programme where it says children as young as 12 are reportedly subjected to forced labour. They work for long hours under hazardous conditions for low pay and suffer from physical abuse.

Terminator seed ban under threat

As the world grapples with the impact of global food shortages (Six million Ethiopian children at risk of malnutrition, May 21), the livelihoods of 1.4 billion of the world's poorest farmers who rely on harvesting seeds from one crop for sowing the next season is under threat from biotech companies which are pushing to commercialise "terminator" technology - genetic engineering that results in plants producing sterile seeds. The advent of these so-called suicide seeds represent an insidious attempt to privatise plant life - and force poor families in developing countries to buy new seeds each year from the large companies that control the $19bn global seed market.

A global ban on terminator technology struck eight years ago is now under threat from a powerful alliance of biotech companies and countries with vested interests. They argue terminator technology should be considered on a case-by-case basis, thereby undermining the blanket moratorium. We fear the ban will once again come under pressure at this week's UN summit on the convention on biological diversity in Bonn.

Biotech companies' claims that terminator technology will prevent contamination between GM and non-GM crops are hotly contested, yet the EU and, by implication, British taxpayers are contributing to the development of the technology through a £3.4m EU research project investigating ways that seeds can be brought back to life with chemicals. In the developing world, small-scale farming is how millions of families survive. It is vital that at the Bonn summit this month the UK government strongly supports the continuing global ban on terminator technology.

Sol Oyuela
Environmental officer, Progressio

~ The Guardian ~


Vatican fulfils ozone obligations; condemns terminator seeds

The Holy See has fulfilled its obligations under two international conventions to protect the ozone layer, a Vatican official has announced.

Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, this month deposited a document of adherence to the Convention of Vienna for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Catholic News Agency reports.

Archbishop Migliore explained that with this gesture "the Holy See desires to encourage the entire international community to be resolute in promoting authentic cooperation between politics, science and economics."

[ ... ]

Terminator seeds condemned

Meanwhile, Independent Catholic News reports three widely respected theologians have condemned "terminator seed" technology - which produces genetically engineered plants with sterile seeds - as "grossly immoral."

Writing in a new publication, commissioned by Catholic development charity Progressio, Jesuit Fr Roland Lesseps, Fr Sean McDonagh and Fr Donal Dorr say the controversial GM technology, which is currently restricted by a temporary UN ban, offers "no benefit for farmers and consumers" and would have "long term consequences for the environment."

Biotechnology companies claim that 'Terminator' seeds would be used to produce GM crops and trees which are engineered to stop GM traits spreading to other plants by inserting a 'suicide' gene.

But Fr McDonagh, writing in the new publication, says: "There is simply no such thing as a safe and acceptable form of Terminator"

Instead, the theologians warn the technology could have catastrophic effects on the poorest farmers in the developing world.

"Terminator technology attacks the very principle of life itself," writes Lesseps.

"Destroying the life principle in an organism is not a right relationship with creation which should be received as a gift from God to be shared by all."

~ From: CathNews ~


Heartland: I Won’t Pay My Taxes If You Won’t Pay Yours

by Nina Rothschild Utne

War tax resistance is far from a new idea. But there is a bold initiative brewing that has an elegantly simple new angle: There is safety in numbers. The idea is to get people to sign a pledge that they will engage in civil disobedience by withholding a percentage of their taxes, but only if a critical mass of 100,000 signers is reached by April 15, 2008.

Activists have spent long hours pushing for election reform, marching in the streets, and engaging in other forms of civil disobedience against the Iraq war with seemingly no effect, so clearly a different tack is needed. The "I'll jump if you will" approach to war tax resistance just might work.

My friend Jodie Evans, cofounder of Code Pink, is one of those people who live on the barricades, sleep little, and dedicate most every waking moment to social change. Her material desires take a backseat to her convictions, and the ragged pink mules she has worn for years as part of her Code Pink identity are the laughingstock of her friends. She has been arrested more times than she can count and has been at the epicenter of many of the most effective and mediagenic progressive campaigns of the past several decades.

But Jodie is also at home in the most rarefied strata of power. Thanks in no small part to her, the pledge list will be seeded with participants from business, Hollywood, and other influential enclaves, and the initiative will be backed by a strong communications strategy.

War tax resistance dates back to the early 13th century, when King John of England raised taxes to pay for a war against France and offended many barons who objected to the war. Their fury led to the birth, in 1215, of the Magna Carta, which underpins U.S. constitutional law. Henry David Thoreau was the most famous U.S. war tax resister, and his essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" influenced Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others. During the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of citizens withheld payment of the 10 percent phone service excise tax that was instituted to pay for that war. Organizations like the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee have ongoing campaigns and considerable expertise in the how-tos of withholding taxes.

I know a man who has a passion for slashing taxes but a political agenda very different from mine, and I wanted to know what he thought of withholding income tax as an act of civil disobedience. He initially said that he was opposed to breaking even unjust laws and that his approach is to work the system. In his view, the income tax is unconstitutional and therefore an unjust law because it should have been ratified state by state, rather than introduced as the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. When I explained the critical mass approach to tax withholding, he cautioned me to beware of the law of unintended consequences. If this war tax resistance initiative is successful, he said, people like him could take the same approach to withholding taxes for social spending. I told him that it seems to me that spending on human needs and environmental protection is already eviscerated. "Well, then you have nothing to be afraid of," he said.

Salt Lake City mayor Ross "Rocky" Anderson recently made an impassioned speech in which he said, "I implore you: Draw a line. Figure out exactly where your own moral breaking point is. How much will you put up with before you say 'No more' and mean it?"

What do you say, Rocky? I'll sign on if you will.

Meanwhile, tonight Jodie Evans has, Cinderella-like, put on a gown and jewels for a gala gathering of high-tech titans. I have no doubt that when her glass slippers revert to pink mules, she will be clutching some high-octane names for the war tax resisters pledge list.

Stay tuned and sign on at

~ Utne ~


‘Food is weak link in civilisation’

While the world focuses on the emergency food summit in Rome this week, Lester Brown, the planet's leading environmental expert, is in China to bring food security concerns to the globe's most populous country and to promote his latest book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

Current food security concerns are connected to the rising cost of oil and to global warming, he said.

"We have never faced such a massive threat as the melting of glaciers," Mr Brown told a packed audience in Beijing. "Scientists had never seen anything like this before."

From the Arctic to the Tibetan plateau, ice is melting at a fast clip and threatening such rivers as the Ganges in India and the Yangtze in China, both major rice-growing countries. "What happens to glaciers in these countries affects wheat and rice in these countries," he said. And as rivers overflow, the land will be flooded and hundreds of millions of people will be driven from their homes with no viable means of surviving, he said.

Like those attending the summit in Rome, Mr Brown is very worried about food security. As president of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental research organisation he founded in 2001, the former farmer from New Jersey is looking to provide a road map for achieving an environmentally sustainable world economy.

Food is the weak link in civilization, he said. But, increasingly, the world is watching governments fail to provide food security for their people: Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Pakistan just to name a few. "Failing states," Mr Brown said, "are an early sign of a failing civilisation."

The lessons of history have shown that such early civilisations as the Mayans and Sumerians failed when they created an ecological imbalance resulting in the inability to produce enough food.

Going one step further, he said that famines have been geographical. And although global warming and production of food are geographical, the ability of people to buy food is not. The famines of the future will be related to class and price, meaning that even in countries that produce a lot of food, those people might not be able to afford to eat. The poor will be hit hardest as food gets more expensive.

Besides failing governments, there are additional stresses on food security, namely rising oil prices and the devotion of ever larger shares of the US grain harvest to biofuel for vehicles. "While China and India are increasing consumption [of grain] by two million tonnes per year, the United States is consuming 20 million more tonnes per year because of biofuel production," he said.

~ more... ~


Guru English

One had no idea from the title what the contents of the volume under review might be and I must admit that the introduction did little to enlighten me. Now that I have finished reading it I am still not clear quite what the phrase means, nor why it is what it is. "Guru English" serves as a capacious hold-all term to refer to the ways in which Hinduism has moved beyond its usual geographical borders, adapted to, first, the Raj, then the nationalist project, then the post-modern welter, all the while turning cosmopolitan and universal, repackaging itself in the process as a panacea for stress in the consumerist world of late capitalism. In other words Guru English is a discourse, a field of thought and practice that reinvents itself continuously. A long taken-for-granted tradition of Indian spirituality is seen here to have bloomed as an effect of Western Romanticism, which, seeping into India in the late 18th century looked at the past through a golden haze.

Different phases

Heavily grounded in contemporary theory, the study (part linguistics, part history, part sociology of religion,) takes the reader through not only the different phases listed above but describes eloquently and critically the personalities who "created", reformed, adapted, universalised Hindu thought and myth, spreading it abroad, very differently from the proselytisers of the Semitic faiths, but popularising it nevertheless, claiming a special standing for this 'religion' (which is no religion in any revealed sense), an applicability and relevance that can withstand the onslaughts of science, that is itself somehow scientific, has contained the germs of scientific thought from the very beginning. Hinduism takes scientific progress on board for the simple reason that it offers no belief system that can be disproved. Thus, in contexts where the belief system stands discredited, the heady mix of the philosophical, psychological and spiritual offered by charismatic gurus through yoga and meditation has proved to be a powerful draw.

~ From: Cosmopolitan Interconnections ~


'Yesterday I asked for your comments about the role of faith in 21st century Europe'

In answer to some of those who commented yesterday, there were not just Christians, Muslims and Jews represented but people of many more faiths - and none. Lord Harrison of the all-party parliamentary group on humanism and the British Humanist Association spoke up in favour of including humanism in consultative bodies.

It also wasn't, as some have suggested, simply a case of representatives of different faiths all agreeing with each other and demanding more of a say over government policy.

The tone was very productive and cooperative, but let's not forget that different religious groups do see many issues differently and maintain a dialogue based on recognising and accepting differences as well as shared interests. And some are also very clear about maintaining a healthy distance from governments.

I was interested to hear Grace Davie, a noted scholar of the sociology of religion, point out that while Europe has secularised (and expected the rest of the world to follow) in fact the rest of the world is marked by the sustained vitality of religious belief.

As an example of the former, one speaker mentioned that of the 27 EU member states only five have references to God in their constitutions. It convinces me that the European perspective is a useful one to add to the British perspective.

We also addressed the issue that some of you raised - the relationship between individual faith and organised religion.

We had clear agreement that these are not one and the same thing and that we need to bear in mind the complexity of the different ways people express their faith and the wide differences of opinion within different faiths.

I was heartened to hear expressions of support for British Muslims from Jewish and Christian faith leaders who are concerned at the way in which fringe views are sometimes presented as the mainstream.

Jewish leaders present made clear that their own experience of antisemitism made them deeply opposed to Islamophobia, and Dr Elaine Storkey of Tearfund expressed her frustration at the media's preference for extreme viewpoints (she described being told by the producer of a programme: "Sorry, we can't use you ... Your views are far too reasonable").

One contributor said: "We need to speak with one voice against religious parody" - and I can't put it better than that.

Participants said they wanted the EU to stand up against religious persecution worldwide - it's something I know the EU does, but perhaps we do need to be more vocal about it.

~ From: Jim Murphy responds to your comments ~


Social epistemology

The first study, e. g., examines how beliefs might differ from culturally different academic institutions. Undergraduate students were sampled from SFU in Canada and UNLV in the USA. The results revealed that SFU students espoused more constructivist epistemic beliefs, that is, they were more likely to be critical of authority and less likely to believe that knowledge is fixed in a timeless Platonic world.
[ ... ]
Social epistemology is a relatively new and booming field of research. It studies the social dimension of the pursuit of acquiring true beliefs and requires philosophical as well as sociological and economical expertise. Promising new models and ongoing research should help educators, policy makers and diplomats.
For example, there is a workshop on Formal Modeling in Social Epistemology at Tilburg University, The Netherlands on 9 - 10 October 2008. The announcement for that workshop details the topics for discussion: The insights gained in social epistemology are not only of theoretical interest -- they also improve our understanding of social and political processes as the field includes the analysis of group deliberation and group decision making. Surprisingly, little work has yet been done on the epistemic properties of group deliberation, belief aggregation and decision-making procedures.
Review - Knowing, Knowledge and Beliefs
Epistemological Studies across Diverse Cultures
by Myint Swe Khine (Editor)
Springer, 2008
Review by Bob Lane, MA
~ Source ~

Burma: Who's in the Junta?

Not all junta members are equal, however: The three top figures in the SPDC are its chairman Than Shwe; his deputy, Maung Aye; and joint chief of staff Thura Shwe Mann. Than Shwe has been the top figure in the junta since 1992, when he replaced Saw Maung—the leader of a military coup four years earlier, who had begun describing himself as the reincarnation of an 11th-century king. But as the chairman reaches his mid-70s and has fallen into ill-health, his behavior has also been depicted as increasingly bizarre. In 2006, he abruptly moved the country's capital from Burma's largest city, Rangoon, to the remote town of Naypyidaw—reportedly on the advice of his astrologer.
Little is known about internal SPDC politics, but veteran Burma-watchers say that one of the more important dividing lines within the junta separates generals who were educated in the nation's top military schools and those who rose through the ranks. Than Shwe falls into the latter category—he began his career as a postal worker before embarking on a military career that eventually took him to the top of the army's psychological warfare unit. Vice-chair Maung Aye, on the other hand, was in the first class of the elite Defense Services Academy. Tensions between the two leaders reportedly came to a head last fall, when the so-called "Saffron Revolution" led by thousands of Buddhist monks called the junta's legitimacy into question. As in earlier crackdowns of Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy supporters, Than Shwe is thought to have favored of a more hard-line approach than his deputy, who allegedly opposed the decision to shoot at the monks. The rift was so deep that some dispatches out of Burma suggested a coup against Than Shwe was imminent.

Pharmaceutical payola -- Drug marketing to doctors

Last week, a Congressional committee properly raked Big Pharma over the coals for misleading advertising of pharmaceuticals.

A hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight subcommittee focused on advertising campaigns for three drugs, including the remarkable case of Robert Jarvik. Jarvik is featured in endlessly re-run ads for Pfizer's blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor. Known as the inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, he is not a cardiologist, not a licensed medical doctor and not authorized to prescribe pharmaceuticals. He's shown in the ads engaged in vigorous rowing activity, but in fact he doesn't row. Pfizer pulled the ads in February after controversy started brewing.

Among industrialized countries, only the United States and New Zealand permit drug companies to market directly to consumers. It's a bad idea, it drives bad medicine, and it should be banned.

But although it has the highest profile, direct-to-consumer advertising is a small part of Pharma's marketing machine.

Researchers Marc-André Gagnon and Joel Lexchin conclude in a recent issue of the journal PLOS Medicine that direct-to-consumer ads make up less than a tenth of industry marketing expenditures ($4 billion of $57.5 billion in 2004). And Gagnon and Lexchin's estimate of $57.5 billion on marketing excludes many industry expenditures that are really driven by marketing, including clinical trials conducted for marketing purposes.

The bulk of the industry marketing effort -- more than 70 percent by Gagnon and Lexchin's calculation -- is directed at doctors.


Because it works.

The companies spend huge amounts paying firms that carefully track what doctors prescribe, and then they use the information to tailor messages to doctors, distribute samples and develop continuing medical education programs.

Gagnon and Lexchin report that Pharma spends more than $20 billion a year on "detailers" -- the pharma reps that knock on doctor doors, ply the staff with free coffee and lunches, distribute samples ($16 billion worth), and prod docs to prescribe their drugs.

This is complemented by a host of tactics that in other circumstances might be called bribes.
~ more... ~


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