Volatility

May 13, 2017

The Corporations are Driving Forced Migrations and Genetic Contamination

Filed under: GMO Contamination — Tags: , , — Russ @ 8:13 am

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Long ago the US government and Western corporations launched their attack on the human innovation, freedom, and ecology of Latin America. NAFTA was a significant escalation of this war of aggression. Mexico’s courts remain a rare support for resistance to this assault, though we abolitionists must never count on any court.
 
Independence is not the opposite of community, but a precondition of it, where it means the lack of dependency upon distant, unaccountable, alien entities. People who are dependent on centralized hierarchies whose interests and knowledge are alien to the community can never be free or secure within that community, but every day face centrifugal pressures driving them away from one another and into conflict with one another. These forces often physically destroy the community and drive the people literally off their land.
 
There’s another kind of relationship, interdependence, where we work with the land and its fruits which sustain us. The stability of this relationship is a precondition for broader political and economic independence. Only where we control the land and the food it produces can we enjoy political and economic independence. At the opposite extreme, no dependency could be more productive of absolute helplessness than to lose our ability to control and rely upon the land, instead being forced into thralldom to a centralized agricultural and food system which has no knowledge of agriculture or food and cares nothing about them, which cares for nothing but its own power and profit. To be dependent upon such a system is slavery.
 
Mexico is reeling from the blows of corporate assaults in many sectors. US agribusiness has been the most aggressive in its drive to commodify Mexican agriculture, seize control of the land, and drive the millions of small farmers who depend upon this land off of their land and into a vastly more profound dependency upon the pure whims and chance of a cruel, vicious globalization system.
 
One of their core tactics is the forced colonization of GMOs around the world. Land-grabbing and commodification is the primary operational assault of technocracy. GMOs are designed to render land-grabbing and commodification quickly profitable within the government subsidy framework. As the most exalted and idolized technology of governments today GMOs are the recipients of complete subsidy and policy protection. This complete subsidization by the taxpayers is the only thing which renders this otherwise unprofitable and worthless product viable at all.
 
Mexico, ravaged by NAFTA, has been relatively resistant to GMO proliferation. In spite of the support of several government agencies, citizen campaigns have won public support and court victories which have so far staved off the commercialization of GM maize.
 
Maize is a storied crop in Mexico, prominent in mythology and folklore and central to the Mexican national vision. A popular saying goes, “Sin Maiz, No Hay Maiz”: “Without Corn, There is No Country”. Maize is the core food and retail crop for millions of small farmers and their families who depend upon it for their food, livelihood, freedom, and community.
 
Because maize is a wind-pollinated crop, it is one of the crops most easily cross-pollinated by other varieties. To maintain the genetic integrity of a landrace or variety requires strict precautions on the part of the farmer and a relative lack of cross-pollinating influences. Even though GM maize has not yet been legally approved in Mexico, transgenic contamination of indigenous varieties began quickly following NAFTA, from GM seed which was mixed into the maize shipments the US immediately began dumping in Mexico. This infiltrated seed was planted and its pollen then spread with the wind, contaminating ears of other varieties, whose seed was then planted, and so on in a gradually expanding process of contamination.
 
This demonstrates two truths. One, within a commodification framework it’s impossible to keep supply chains segregated. The commercial debacle with Syngenta’s Viptera maize contaminating US maize shipments to China, resulting in the loss to US traders and farmers of billions in sales, legally is an ongoing case. Two, once GM varieties of a crop like maize are released into the environment, it’s impossible to prevent their contaminating non-GM varieties. These are two proofs that “co-existence” is physically impossible. It’s also politically impossible, which is demonstrated here by the relentless struggle on the part of the cartel to force this product upon a society which does not want it.
 
Ignacio Chapela and David Quist first documented this contamination in 2001. The Mexican government confirmed the contamination shortly afterward. In spite of this documentation, the corporate flacks and their fanboys have never stopped slandering Chapela and telling the direct lie that there’s no GM contamination of maize in Mexico. This is an excellent example of how all pro-GM activism is based on nothing but bald-faced lies, and more profoundly on an absolute contempt for the very idea of truth or falsehood, fact or fiction. This contempt for fact is rampant among engineers and even among scientists ever since the corporate science paradigm, which can be summed up as “science, and truth itself, are nothing but what the corporate marketing department says they are”, has become dominant over organized science and technology development.
 
Subsequent studies have traced the spread of transgenic contamination across large swaths of the country (see p. 17 of the link). This gradual genetic corruption and depletion has been ongoing while no GM maize is being legally grown. This is thanks to the citizen campaign organized by Accion Colectiva (Collective Action), an alliance of farmers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, consumers, and civil society advocates, all acting cooperatively as public citizens. Their suit argues that the government allowed field trials and is rushing to approve commercialization without having conducted the safety and contamination tests and environmental reviews required by Mexican law and the constitution, Article 27 of which requires protection of genetic biodiversity as a common good.
 
 
Mexico is one of the world centers of maize origin and diversity. The future of the crop depends to a great extent on the genetic integrity of the maize landraces of Mexico and other parts of Latin America, as well as the integrity of teosinte, the wild relative from which maize evolved. The maize independence of humanity is dependent upon this genetic spring, while the corporate stanching of this spring would kill all food independence.
 
Transgenic contamination is a major problem and is getting worse. But we must place it in the context of the bigger, longer arc of the genetic depletion of agriculture. The genetic diversity of maize has been steadily suffering constriction and depletion over the last century.
 
The more narrow and depleted a crop’s genetic range becomes, the more vulnerable the crop is to pests, weed pressure, disease, drought, flooding, adverse soil conditions, weather, and climate. An early disaster was the 1970 Southern Leaf Corn Blight which wiped out as much as 50-100% of the crop in regions of the US. A subsequent National Research Council investigation pegged the precarity of the maize gene pool as the cause of the wide vulnerability of the crop. Specifically, a gene for male sterility (the T cytoplasm gene) bred extensively into most varieties of the crop (as a “labor-saving”, i.e. job-destroying, feature for the harvest of seed corn) had the collateral effect of rendering plants which carried the gene more vulnerable to the blight. In spite of this early warning shot over the bow, the genetic uniformity and depletion has only gotten worse since then.
 
The 1970 episode also provides a stark demonstration of what can happen if a particular crop gene is bred into the bulk of the crop varieties and deployed very quickly over a vast geographic range without any precautionary assessment of possible harmful collateral effects. In fact by the late 1960s many agronomists were becoming uneasy about the ubiquity of the T cytoplasm gene, and some were predicting a pandemic like the one that hit in 1970. Here the gene was conventionally bred. But the same principles apply even more ominously in the case of GMOs, since the transgenic insertion process is far more likely than conventional breeding to generate harmful mutations. GMOs, combining the worst of both worlds – pivotal conditions of genetic uniformity along with uniquely chaotic genetic unpredictability – are recklessly being deployed as fast as possible over unprecedented geographic ranges.
 
Like with most other evils of GMOs, transgenic contamination is an escalation of an existing malign trend in corporate agriculture, the depletion of agricultural germplasm. Corporate control of agriculture was endangering the future of humanity in this way prior to GMOs and would be doing so in their absence. GMOs are just making it worse.
 
All this is just one refutation of the standard lies that GMOs are supposed to comprise a solution to pests, drought, and other crop afflictions. On the contrary, by accelerating the process of genetic narrowing and depletion GMOs render agriculture ever more vulnerable to every kind of affliction.
 
The GMO biological assault on maize is part of a wider economic assault on small farmers and their communities. GMOs accelerate the corporate agricultural process of driving great masses of people off the land. The goal is corporate enclosure and control of the land in order to eradicate regionally based production of food for human beings and replace it with globalized commodity production for profit. GMOs are intended to aggravate and accelerate this great evil of corporate agriculture.
 
In Mexico, the process of land-grabbing, dumping, and enclosure of the land in favor of vast commodity plantations is forcing the migration northward of effectively stateless economic refugees. This process too has been ongoing for decades and was escalated by NAFTA. The commercialization of GM maize would escalate it further. I’ve written extensively about how GMOs are an impossible technology for small farmers, which for them can never be anything but an assault and an often deadly trap.
 
Whenever you see someone in America complaining about the northward migration of Mexicans, remind them that this is a forced migration driven by US globalization policy. The big corporations profit in two ways: The agribusiness corporations seize control of the land in Mexico, while by forcing this migration all corporate sectors benefit from how it further drives down wages in the US. As always and everywhere, the corporation is the enemy of humanity.
 
I briefly traced here a few of the long arcs of the corporate threat to humanity’s future. The biological and genetic threats posed by GMOs and the broader genetic engineering project are among the most dire. Those fighting in Mexico are fighting for the independence, freedom, and health of us all. Such grassroots groups, organizing people from every walk of life as public citizens to fight corporate power and thwart the attempt to impose corporate domination, are the only groups fighting today for freedom and community. The bell tolling for the assassination attempt on Mexican community independence, via assault on the genetic basis of our food, is tolling for all of us, everywhere, as we face the same assault wherever we are, whatever we eat. We must abolish corporate agriculture.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

September 1, 2009

Innovation?

I recently learned that the rotating red, white and blue pole you see outside barbershops has not been significantly changed since the 20s. It’s the same basic mechanical function, same design. Same technology.
 
Needless to say there have been attempts to “upgrade” it, to add frills and features, to “improve” the function, to bring it virtuously into the space age, and to profit in the process. But barbers have rejected these upgrades, for the simple reason that the thing is fine as it is.
 
At first glance this seems to be appalling heresy. But should it really be so unusual? Innovation is one of the fundamental values of our ideology. But does it describe reality? How much of what we call innovation really is innovation, and how much “innovation”?
 
How much of it is really rent-seeking, really an attempt to glean profit not through actually creating anything new, adding real value, but simply adding complexity and worthless ornaments? How much is meant to do nothing but illicitly convince the consumer that you have added value where you’ve really added nothing but cost and risk, and to obscure that fact?
 
We see in many sectors how capitalist innovation has run its course and been replaced by rentier activity whose goal is monopoly, deregulation, capture of the law, corruption, and looting of public resources. The most obvious example today is the finance sector.
 
Paul Volcker famously said the last real financial innovation was the ATM. And while Ben Bernanke recently decried the alleged doldrums of 70s-era finance, as Simon Johnson and James Kwak pointed out in a recent article, the 70s were the period of the credit card, the Community Reinvestment Act, and securitization, all of which basically matured as products during that same period, and none of which has had real value added since then
 
On the contrary, all that’s been added to credit cards are ever more opaque ways to manipulate and raise fees. Securitization has similarly been manipulated to create the simulacrum of wealth creation and spreading risk, thereby making the system richer and more resilient. What it was really doing was running a con to extract real wealth from investors while leaving them with worthless paper, and to fool investors and regulators about the lessening of risk when in fact risk was being intensified and universalized. (That regulators didn’t need much fooling, and that many of the originators of these scams ended up fooling themselves as well doesn’t change the fact. And then many of them were always operating under the assumption that if the worst came the government would bail them out.)
 
Those are two prime examples of how the finance sector as a whole has innovated nothing of social value in decades. It has reorganized itself as an organized crime network, dedicated to lobbying for political and legal space to run its cons, using these cons to mine revenue, and using this revenue for further lobbying. This rent-seeking has been extremely successful. According to this Financial Times piece by Benjamin Friedman, the share of just finance (not including insurance and real estate) as a percentage of US corporate profit has gone from an average of 10% from the 50s through the 80s to 34% in the first half of this decade. Other estimates place this figure as high as 40%.
 
When you add to this all the industry’s obscene pay and administrative overhead, the amount of social wealth which is sucked up by this almost completely malign and parasitic sector becomes staggering. This is by far the most onerous, inefficient, and obnoxious tax on the US economy.
 
We have a hideous bottleneck here, and America will never be able to fix any of its problems as long as we are jammed this way.
 
Is the situation much better in other sectors?
 
Let’s check out the great economic hope of every kind of booster, and even of many erstwhile skeptics, information tech.
 
Are the big names here – Google, Microsoft, Intel, Apple – still great innovators? This seems doubtful. Most of the corporate activity we see today is scrambling for market share among an oligopoly. Amid all the sound and fury of the search engine war, it’s seldom mentioned that the basic technology itself is mature. Does anybody really think we need “better” search engines? We probably don’t, but Microsoft thinks it needs a bigger market share of those searches (while analysts say Yahoo is trying to figure out what it even does anymore), so “innovation” ahoy!
 
There is some numerical data that the pace of technological development has greatly slowed. According to a presentation being given by former Oracle executive Thomas Seibel, the pace of spending by the IT sector, which was growing worldwide at the compounded rate of 17% per year from 1980 to 2000, has plummeted in this decade to 3%/year. Seibel’s analysis is that the IT sector is “mature”, that people are basically happy with what they have now, and that in the future opportunity and innovation will lie with food, water, energy, and health care. 
 
I suppose we can ask a deeper question here – why exactly do we keep needing faster CPUs and microchips with ever-doubling capacity? Are we really generating that much real new information? We definitely are not. Rather, what’s happening is simply an arms race where every new capacity and speed vacuum is immediately filled mostly with junk, so that performance and value never increase. You have to keep upgrading simply to stay in place. The hardware and software companies profit the whole way through. This set-up is exactly as they want it.
 
More broadly, the entire economy is mostly like this. Did any innovation drive the housing bubble? Of course not. A combination of conspicuous asset hoarding by the superrich (in this case properties and mansions) and rent-seeking by the originators of derivatives, helped along by McMansion propaganda and federal subsidies, drove up these prices so that the non-rich, if they wanted to chase the American dream, had to work themselves to exhaustion and go deep into debt in order to afford even a normal house, let alone keep up with the Joneses. In none of this was any valued added, any real wealth created, anything innovated. On the contrary, tremendous social damage was done, and the lives of everyone except a handful of criminals were made worse.
 
Most of all, we have seen how  Marx and the Luddites have been proven correct in their economic fears. The major economic role of financialization and technology in modern economies has been to destroy jobs and erode the wages and job security of those who still have jobs. So even while as consumers most Americans believed or were tricked into thinking they were the beneficiaries of a cornucopia of technological advances, in reality they were being plunged into debt to acquire these even as their jobs were degraded, offshored, or destroyed completely.
 
So now let’s consider the argument so often made against regulation and public interest policy, especially where it comes to wealth distribution. They claim it’ll stifle “innovation”. But as we can see,
 
1. There is little more real innovation to be done;
 
2. Those who claim to be innovators are really non-value adding, parasitic rent-seekers.
 
Is there a single sector:
 
1. Where we don’t already have Enough?
 
2. Where we use wisely what we do have and don’t squander it?
 
The way things are with the world, getting “more” would just lead to a more violent squandering. But the cornucopian myth, in both its conservative and liberal versions, says the promised land is right over the hill, where we’ll all have enough and use it wisely. But for today we must continue the death march.
 
No, we already have all we need, except wisdom. This we’ll have to fight for. And that means the first course of action should be to change society. No discrete problem can be solved so long as all problems stem from the chronic system problem.
 
This political system is the problem. Solve the politics and you can then solve the economy and from there the society.
 
This is the only true innovation left to be made.