Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary Political Economy’

Romantic Sojourn

June 20, 2016

People used to write long texts. They were called letters. The exchange between reader and writer happened mechanically, over distance and time. Twitter, Instagram, I phones changed all that. Today I froze 21 packages of sugar snap peas, planted back in March. Back in March, a fluke occurred of 70 degree weather, pre-mature summer. This, after an exceptionally mild winter where my bee colony losses were likewise exceptional – around 15% instead of the previous years’ 40 – 60%. So the bees all responded as though it was late spring instead of early. Queenie laid a lot of eggs, obliged by the colony itself which was exceptionally strong after a southern U S winter. But wait, the plot thickens as we had freezes in April which killed off a lot of what would have been flowering. Enter May with overcrowded hives and little resources in the environment (remember the freeze?). So everyone decided that an overcrowded hive in the midst of scarce resources called for the reproduction of more of the species (a logical solution, never conceptualized by humans as they reproduce). So it has been a swarmy time from late April through early June. Some context from the political desk. Though most still imagine farms and markets as quaint places where bumpkins gather or toil, in actuality they are more akin to the New York stock exchange. Yes, that is a market which at one time belonged to Dow Jones, (GOK owns it now – gawd only knows who owns it now). Ditto for today’s marketing of farm produce. To sell means to belong (and adhere to the regime of standards, investments and acumen). It was once attractive to produce honey in that it could be marketed without restrictions like apples. Today, both are inspected, detected and rejected unless they meet rigid market requirements (posited by the owners of the market, who else?). But I digress. A plethora of riches, one would be wrong to assume, all these swarms gathered, all these hives surviving the mild winter – in theory producing the riches of a bumper crop of honey. But wait, unless you belong and your operation is detected, inspected and rejected, not so. And so it was for the last six weeks. Like a sailor sailing close to the wind, it was an adrenaline rush to understand what is taking place within the environmental milieu called nature and to run with it, gathering swarms of bees, making new bees (through nucs generated by all the queen cells produced) and providing space for the honey to be deposited. Wrong. Without belonging it was nothing but experience. As Andy Warhol famously said “Good art is good business” (or was it “Good business is good art.”?). Without the marketing, it was all akin to scaling El Capitan at Yosemite without the requisite Nike sponsorship that LeBron assumes as totally natural. Indeed, most athletes assume sponsorship as totally natural, part of the enterprise (ever check out a NASCAR driver?). So it has all come to a low roar now that the need to reproduce has subsided and I have kept up with the flow and have healthy hives. But alas, I kept up a little too close. I got too close to the wonderful rhythm usually called nature, when one “lives” (understands, sees, feels) what is taking place all around one. In one respect it is terrible in that one loses one’s being, one’s identity, and only functions because that is what is required, what is called for. On another hand it is quite the rush in that one senses, one “knows” what is coming down and can respond accordingly. Yet all the same, as Warhol pointed out, it is not much good unless one can make business of it. And that’s the gist of this missive, that there is so much more, so much vital expenditure and commitment that doesn’t involve capitalist requirements, and that it all goes by the way for reasons of capitalist economics. How much of this is truly vital for the evolution of the species, to adapt to what lies ahead, and is being denigrated and negated for the expediency of the market? And how much of this is simply a romantic sojourn?

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Performance Art

January 8, 2016

For the Associated Press, Wilson Ring and Jill Colvin report on presidential wannabe Donald Trump’s latest campaign promotion in Burlington. Vermont (Protesters interrupt Trump Vermont rally despite screening, 1-8-16). The national media has focused on location and the number of folks who lined up (“Thousands of people stood in line for hours waiting to get into the Burlington event after the campaign distributed 20,000 free tickets to the Flynn Center for the Performing Art, which has just 1,400 seats.”). No one seemed to focus on the actual name of the space, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, nor the last part of the name, Performing Arts. D. Trump has been labeled a huckster, a P.T. Barnum, a Wild Bill Cody for his use of the stage, social media, and traditional media. Recently, many sources are analyzing campaign expenditure on advertising, noting that traditional TV ads are still king, with most of the other “lesser” candidates on the slate spending heavily to try to stay relevant. Trump has only begun to advertise within this framework. It appears that Donnie Trump is truly ahead of the pack, not only in terms of the polls, but in understanding the aesthetic of today’s culture. Jacques Ranciere may have theorized about the politics of aesthetics (the traditional take on culture as pertaining to art – architecture, dance, visual arts, music, etc.) as well as the aesthetics of politics (how politics is done) but Donnie Trump actually employs it. He may be one of the first to understand, through utilization, the effectiveness and viability of performance art. Within politics, this is a staple of South American democracies. In the US, it has been neglected primarily through regulation of the constitutional right to assembly (designated protest sites removed from the source of contention and debate). Mr. Trump has utilized the power of performance art to run a campaign without reliance on advertising. With the Burlington event we have his campaign manipulating the populace in order to produce the art (20,000 tickets for a 1,400 seat venue. Apparently Donnie has no regard for fire code). The ticket holders show up, forming a line, creating a news event. Like with open carry gun laws, it is impossible to tell which of the ticket holders in line are the good guys, and which are the bad (for or against the Trump candidacy). As with the performance art of the visual arts, no advertising expenditure created a spectacle, a sensation, an event or happening, whichever you prefer. In crass art terms – he got the message out. Performance art has a long, involved and rich history in American art dating back to Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in NYC (amongst others). Now it has finally entered the lexicon of America’s political aesthetic. Unfortunately, for most of the American public, it is a novelty that doesn’t have a name.

Je Suis Archie Bunker

January 8, 2015

With the conclusion of his essay “On The Phenomenology Of Giant Puppets: Broken Windows, Imaginary Jars Of Urine, And The Cosmological Role Of The Police In American Culture” (Possibilities: Essays On Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire, 2007) David Graeber speculates on the threat posed by puppets (real, imagined or theoretical?). According to Graeber, not only are puppets targeted for destruction by state security forces during demonstrations but pre-emptive operations are executed to exterminate them prior to deployment, during construction. The official reasons given are always ostensible and fictitious. He cites specific instances and events. For Graeber, the police embody the state’s single interpretation of reality which grants them license, authority to interpret individually. Hence, to “question” or appeal to an alternate interpretation is to undermine that authority, outlook or decision on the nature of reality. Graeber claims the puppets do precisely that by actualizing, making real the possibility of some other interpretation. As the police embody the single interpretation of the state, the puppets “embody” an alternate presentation. The police legitimize their violence on the basis of license. Giant puppets license illegitimacy. The puppets perform this without the reliance on or need of any form of dominance. The imagined possible, no matter how ridiculous or absurd, has always been a threat to the single interpretation. In the straight line (no exceptions) logic of dominance, this appears as “See it my way or don’t see it at all.” The appeal to authority, an authority, the authority underlies such rigor. One variation of this theme is that all (and any) imagined interpretation is reserved for the authority itself, arbitrary or not. The single interpretation is the burden of the subjects of that authority (sometimes cynically given as the “privilege”). The State, God, The Prophet, The Law, Buddha, etc. enjoy (within their domain) the richness and multiplicity of possibility, as well as its origination, dissemination, destruction, etc. The subjects of said author cannot operate within the every day amidst such a richness of possibility (hence, the puppets must go). Although such an approach appears quite pragmatic (a variation of Real Politik), it likewise reveals extreme discomfort. It is as though it exposes an almost elementary condition of ordained determination, the lack of ability to handle the conceptual generative capacity of what is termed “the universal and the particular.” If subjects are possessed of imagined interpretation then God, The State, etc. no longer have monopoly over its generation, becoming restrained to just one version. If subjects are possessed of multiple imaginings then God, The State, etc. simply become one of many possibilities. Etc. “See it my way or don’t see it at all” is the violent manifesto of domination. Anything imagined always escapes the interpretation of dominance.

A Question Of Unity

August 31, 2014

There she was at the outdoor arts and crafts show hidden behind her work (the only shady spot to be found). Not a pretty woman, with bad teeth wearing overalls and work boots, she displayed portraits of exquisite detail featuring various animals, wild and domestic. She was literally behind her work.

Dorothea Lange was featured on a PBS American Masters episode. Of particular note was that Lange had been laid off by the FSA around 1940 and this completely disoriented her. Prior to this, though not well paid, she and her work had the connection of support that allowed entry into migrant workers camps and entitled her to photograph their conditions and inhabitants (for which she became famous). After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lange was picked up by the WRA to document the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. Her work proved too good and was impounded by the Army that had hired her. After the war she went on to document the conditions of sharecroppers in America’s south through various impromptu, on site portraits.

Today’s artist is not found behind the work but rather is contained in the surface of the work (“if you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Andy Warhol). Lange’s legacy is tainted by the question of whether the haunting portraits of Americans (as Americans) were unified by Lange herself (ala’ Woody Guthrie) or whether the unity had to do with the political economy of the time, which gave her a job, a purpose, cover and a mission. Would Lange have done what she did without taking a position with the FSA (and the WRA)?

Today, though not in the form of the outdoor arts and craft exhibitionist, the contemporary artist is expected to initiate and take ownership of an enterprise such as Lange had formed organically through her job involvement and the passage of time. Not only is the exceptional artist expected to have the “vision” of all the implications of their work, but they also are expected to obtain all the necessary connections and funding to bring it to fruition. Alternately, the subjective individual artist not pursuing such a socially visionary route is expected to draw from their own personal archives for portrayals within which they can be found, neither behind nor solely on the surface.

In either case, the unspoken question is where does the unity lie? As so many of today’s “social events” verify, unity is found through the discrete portrayal of the event’s participants themselves (through the near instantaneous documentation appearing on social media, etc.). This further implicates the contemporary social documentarians, along with the visionary arts entrepreneurs and subjective artistic interpreters, as discrete units within an abstract cohesive entirety entitled “Art”. This coordinates well within the operational determinants of a contemporary capitalist political economy that emphasizes personal choice and the freedom (and responsibility) of “rugged individualism”. The conditions of Lange’s pre-existing unity, promoting and spurring her creativity (and outcomes), as well as the pre-supposed unity of the subjective artist, with her viewer audience supporting her individual personal statements, are long gone. Today’s American culture emphasizes continuous discrete differentiation from any singular unifying definition.

Environmental News

January 11, 2014

“West Virginia chemical spill triggers widespread tap water ban
Tyler Evert January 9, 2014 Reuters

A chemical spill along a West Virginia river on Thursday triggered a tap water ban for up to 300,000 people, shutting down schools, bars and restaurants and forcing residents to line up for bottled water at stores.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for nine counties following the spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, a chemical used in the coal industry.”

At least the car washes are still open and working!

Time For An Updated Caberet Revival

October 17, 2013

I am reluctant since I write stream of consciousness, and some folks read as though it is a directive. I hope you aren’t in the latter frame of mind. Recent events have triggered correlations with my research/study. I guess 10 years ago everyone was all in a tizzy over “connecting the dots”. Since then we’ve taken up twitter and twerking, and left the children’s coloring book puzzles for the unsophisticated and immature thinkers amongst us. The school district here is running a final drive to renew an existing ongoing levy that funds the school. That levy has failed repeatedly in the past. Inside knowledge is that tea party activists, opposed to taxation carte blanche, have been very active with regards to their success at creating failure. My neighbors, in the compound down the road, have stopped in to educate me after I put up a pro levy sign the last election go round. The local paper ran articles on how the levy is a last resort. Cuts, etc. have already been made. The state is threatening to take over. The district has shown incredible, excellent results compared to 20 years ago when it was considered an educational doormat. Etc. Yet these folks claim “We’re broke. Vote no”. The paper ran a disappointing article trying to interview the opponents and get their side. Turns out they couldn’t track anyone down that lived in the district amongst the organizers. Of the people who are involved in the organization that actually live in the district, they refused to name them (though all the levy proponents always provide their names). Etc. That same day Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee led the rambunctious rally at the WWII Memorial. There is a correlation between these events (Palin’s group, opposition to the school levy), the default crisis, and the brown shirts in Europe during the 1930’s. It is very complicated.

We have been actively engaged with a war on terror for the last 20 years. Historians and students of culture will affirm that wars of such duration tend to insinuate themselves on the people of the various cultures involved, morphing them into one, so to say. The crossover and intermingling of things like diet, fashion, or music/literature/art are easy to identify. Not so easy to identify is the subtle change in outlook/approach to political process. The plethora of suicide jihadism may, in a way, have rubbed off on how we conduct our own approach to solving our problems, especially when our own belief in righteousness finds itself in the minority (which is the situation the tea baggers find themselves in). So, like the thugs of the thirties, we create a problem, blame the opposition, the “other”, the despised for the problem, and then turn around and aggrandize our ability to solve the problem, to be the solution. Exactly what Cruz, Lee, et al did in Washington. It isn’t that such folks aren’t true to their stated convictions (to make a smaller government, if not eliminate it altogether). Rather, it is this strategy of destroy it, claim the destruction on the “other” and then legislate, or bloviate, or announce, promulgate that your approach is the solution, etc. (after the destruction has been perpetrated). This is precisely what the brown shirts did covertly as well as in an outright violent manner, for primarily racial reasons. But many would say the opposition to anything Obama is likewise racially motivated. My local school levy renewal opponents embrace the same modus operandi. Alan Dershowitz just blasted his (ostensibly) best student (Ted Cruz), claiming his approach to be not exactly what the founding fathers had in mind (of the senator perverting the constitutional framework established specifically to reassure regarding the good faith and credit of the US government; using it as a means of achieving partisan political ends, rather than what the framers intended – guaranteeing the good faith and credit of the nation as a whole). The latest manifestation of this noxious growth is from the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Reuters reports (10-16-13) that the VW corporation wants UAW representation at the plant (management wants the workers organized). Once achieved, VW plans on adding another vehicle manufacturing line. The National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, from out of state, are pouring in money and have filed a law suit on behalf of 4 plant employees to disallow this; in essence to shut down the anticipated growth, if not the facility altogether (one senses a genuine, hand crafted Koch wallet opening here). Our Supreme Court is likewise entertaining the same twisted logic in the recent McCutcheon vs. FEC case brought by the same folks who produced Citizens United. It is to guarantee unlimited individual contributions AND no regulation, oversight or transparency. The logic is based on Supreme Court precedent that those exercising first amendment rights (like the 1950’s civil rights activists) not be subject to regulation, disclosure and transparency in order to protect them from intimidation and reprisal. Today the argument is, after Citizens United, that if spending money is free speech, those doing so should likewise be protected from intimidation and reprisal. It is just a skip and a hop to realize that the disposition, strategy and tactics of the brown shirts lies waiting to expand, completely nascent. It is part of capitalism to rely on “crisis” for the sake of profit (created or otherwise). Without crisis, things become a bit too ho hum, efficient, and the opportunities for “growth” are limited to ones that are real or genuinely new. Tear up the trolley tracks, get rid of the busses and people will buy GM cars to get to work. There’s a brown shirt outlook that has crept into our culture. Social scientists wouldn’t be surprised provided the prevalence of bullying in its unseen underbelly. But this is now bullying which threatens to bring us all down, to damage everyone, those involved as well as those innocent and oblivious – all like the daily news of jihadist suicide bombers to which we, as a people, have become completely inured.

The Pig

August 19, 2013

Saturday mornings find me in our local rendition of Bouville at the Makers Market. Due to the demise of my bees I am resigned to peddling my own wares this year. The Makers Market is a shadow market to the official farmers market run by the Downtown Business Association. It is caddy corner to the Makers Market and is quite pricey to break bread with. One of the benefits of being a spider at the Makers Market is that one gets to observe the flies across the way. Parents bring their kids (of course), some leashed, some not, and some in strollers or belly/back packs. People bring their dogs (yes, more than one); some leashed, some not, some even in strollers and belly/back packs. Sometimes a cat makes the scene. Never a dull moment. This past week end a little pink pig appeared on a leash leading a slender young lady. She was accompanied by a tall man in a bona fide chef outfit that gave him a certain Ramsey-esque authority (crowds parted before him as they perused the offerings). Both wore name tags, “Chef” and “Head of University Dining Services”. The nearby college has recently contracted for locally sourced gourmet cuisine to be served in the dining halls.

The woman attached to the pig wore a long grey dress that brushed the ground. She had only stubble on her head, one step removed from being bald, and she suffered from bad acne. She was barefoot. Health was exuded, head to toe. OK, point made. All the aesthetic markers created by a lifetime (and more) of art history scholars presented themselves. Statement made, performance art, commercial at that. Fifty years ago hooter madchens handed out packs of Marlboros and Virginia Slims on fringes of universities. Today it is acne and a pig.

That evening Moyers ran a rerun with Marshall Ganz on Making Social Movements Matter. The overall theme of the show was How People Power Generates Change. “Change” would be the optimal word, something that ostensibly unites Moyers, the lady with the pig, and myself (without others we cannot be whole!). My résumé having included “swineherd” at one time, a certain peculiar kind of nostalgia swept over me there in our very own beautiful downtown Bouville. For some reason, I did not experience this sense of solidarity; with Moyers, the pig and Sartre’s Roquentin maybe, but not with Chef Ramsey, his ward, and their employer. Within the course of the interview Marshall Ganz iterated: “You know, Albert Hirschman, the development economist wrote this book a number of years ago, I’m sure you know about it, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.” And sort of the idea was, okay, so you got an institution. And it’s screwing up. And so one way to fix it is to exercise voice. The other way is you can exit. The market solutions are all exit solutions.” Followed by: “Well, so you don’t like the way the schools work, exit, make your own over here. And that way you exercise choice. You don’t like the way public health works, exit, over here, make your own. Now the only problem is you can only exit and make your own if you got the money to do it. And so the result is that you create these parallel systems of elite systems that are, you know, that fragment the whole.”

Education And Democracy

July 16, 2013

July 15, 2013 found a short essay by Timothy Wilson entitled The Psychology of Success: Helping Students Achieve appearing online. LiveScience.com ran it as an OpEd. Mr. Wilson is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia (did you really think they would run an OpEd by just any Timothy Wilson?). It is interesting to note the use of the word “success” in the title in light of this blog’s previous posting interrogating Jeb Bush’s imagined meaning of “success”. Mr. Bush obviously eschews “helping” in connection with “succeeding”, since success should be coupled with self-reliance, i.e. the individual providing for their own old age retirement, feeding themselves, and providing themselves with housing, health care, and the means of accomplishing all this (presumably through a self-provided education). Of course, that’s where the social comes in, education, as education is extensively (but not completely) a social interaction. Like it or not we all want our big rig drivers who hurtle down the highway at 75 mph to be educated in the handling of these behemoths. We share the road that none of us built individually. Mr. Wilson’s essay is a celebration of the efficacy of social psychology in “helping” folks achieve an education. Within the context of this OpEd, the underlying (unquestioned) assumption is that education is a task (like tying one’s shoes) that needs to be accomplished, that can be accomplished, that is accomplished. Education is taken as a behavior (the stuff of psychology) which therefore can be modified since, as Mr. Wilson says, that is “how the mind works”. Mr. Wilson celebrates turning students on to science and math study, overcoming math anxiety, etc. By working through certain scientifically informed methodologies determined and administered by social psychologists, behavior can be modified to achieve desired outcomes – more scientists, mathematicians, engineers to meet the demands of these technologically driven times.

In a book entitled The Gleam Of Light (2005), Naoko Saito brings together three loosely connected thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Dewey and Stanley Cavell, to consider education and democracy. Emerson is remembered as a poet and philosopher, Dewey as only the latter and Cavell is contemporary so you can preface him with whatever works for you – where he may have taught, as philosopher, movie/culture critic, etc. (contemporary framing never does come across quite the same as historical framing. At what point does it change?). As Saito points out, for these folks, philosophy is considered as the “education of grown-ups”. Humanities and poetry are rather disparaged today in terms of making a contribution to education within our technological wonderland. After all, they post an abysmal track record of landing a job when emphasized as a strength on a job resume’. For Emerson et al. education dovetails with morality. “it puts weight on the question, “How do we live?”” (pg. 51). Philosophy and poetry, the humanities and arts, frequently address this very question, and often attempt to proffer an answer. Unseen, or rather, going unmentioned in Mr. Wilson’s OpEd essay is the abdication of democracy in what he celebrates. The social psychologist functions essentially as a handler or facilitator to satisfy some ultimate need or demand. This role of intermediary differs greatly from that of what previously fell within the field of teaching, the teacher. Need a chemical engineer, or systems analyst? We can do that. We can accomplish the task of modifying behavior/performance to accommodate any need or demand. It all begs the question “who has the need, who is making the demand?” which in turn establishes a hierarchy – the one with the need, the broker who will accommodate the need and satisfy the demand, and the one utilized to satisfy that demand, whose behavior is influenced to become the accomplishment, the success. (Kind of sounds like what makes for success in today’s political economy – jobs creator, temporary agency, job temps – doesn’t it?) This differs greatly from the initiative of education as essential to living within a democracy, to an outlook, a way of living that is centered on democracy originally promoted by Emerson, considered by Dewey, and revisited by Cavell (and brought together by Saito!). “Oh, it’s only a tool, to be used as needed.” is the reply of technology driven learning whenever its value/validity is questioned. The same justification could be given by those celebrating social psychology’s role in today’s education process. But can the same methodology produce a democratic populace? A knowledgeable, critical, informed electorate that is self-reliant in its self-governing?

Pepsi And Peaches

July 7, 2013

The 4th of July holiday week has just passed. It would have been difficult for someone to not notice the special offer ads run by the local mega food retailers, “4 twelve packs of Pepsi for $10” (with membership at Kroger or Giant Eagle. Walmart will match any advertised price brought in with ad). Over the weekend I noticed several farmer’s market produce stands offering a carton of 4 gorgeous peaches for $5. You don’t need Karl Rove to help you do the equation: eight peaches equal forty eight 12 oz. cans of Pepsi (576 ounces of refreshment). Let that sink in for a moment. OK, time’s up! What springs to mind? Oh yeah, labor costs. We all know the capitalist alibi: labor costs drive prices up, eventually putting either jobs or the enterprise that sells the product out of work. The formula is simple and drilled into every sixth grader with their lessons on how to count (no, not the ABC’s kind but how to count money, usually other people’s money). So Pepsi will stay in business and grow, and eventually peaches will, well, disappear. Pepsi will do so by keeping production costs down (and some other unmentionables). This is where the sixth graders are left in the dark. Pepsi will keep its costs down by relying on automation to eliminate its labor (and some other unmentionables). More automated systems equals less human labor costs. In doing so Pepsi will be called a “jobs creator” when it opens or renovates a new production facility that will be more “cost effective” (automated) than the previous. As a “jobs creator” it will be entitled to real estate tax credits, income tax cuts, as well as other “community development” benefits and perks. Peaches, on the other hand, are a totally different economy. Initial start-up investment is substantial, competition with land values as well as continuous reliance on weather and environment, coupled with heavy reliance on human labor make it a primitive economic model for success. Although real people will really be working, it will not qualify as a “jobs creator” (unless it is subsidized and subsumed within some other unmentionables). In the end it relies on growth, but not the economic kind.

Over the weekend PBS televised what looked to be an archived edition of The Human Parade with Jay Nordinger interviewing Jeb Bush. No matter. Governor Bush came off very presidential. His promotion of the conservative economic agenda was totally patriotic. He aspired to create success for America, and Americans. He lauded Marco Rubio for being willing to promote the reduction/elimination of Social Security and elimination/reduction of other social welfare programs (subsidized unmentionables). Also he presented a “how” on immigration: along with securing the borders, allow immediate citizenship for PHD’s entering the country as well as hard working entrepreneurs (NOT the hungry huddled masses yearning to be free, but those arriving with lots of capital- like Rupert Murdoch). This is where the sixth grade symposium on counting doesn’t do those who made it to the seventh grade much good. Weird news coming out of the various government and non-government bean counters: higher education costs are getting, well, higher. Those graduating are either unemployed or having to settle for work that is way below their degree capacity, i.e. Master’s doing minimum high school degree level work, etc. America currently has a lot of well-educated folks (who owe an awful lot of money for getting that degree). Karl Rove math aside, success for America might mean including them. But that brings us back to Pepsi and peaches. Just what does success mean if Americans are insecure in their old age and retirement, if Americans cannot afford to admit to themselves (or others) that they are ill or injured, if education is considered a supplement to learning how to count (other people’s money), and if, when hungry, most Americans will need to choose Pepsi over peaches?

The Powerful Press

May 26, 2013

This weekend many of you, like me, have received a forwarded email entitled “March Against Monsanto: News Not Reporting, Please Share”. It contains images from the various demonstrations worldwide that occurred on May 25, 2013. Our own neighboring big city, Columbus Ohio, was among them. Scant attention was given this demonstration by the few media outlets covering the Newark area. That night the AP ran a story headlined “Protesters across globe rally against Monsanto: Demonstrators rally against Monsanto in global anti-GMO protest” A couple of quotes from that article are notable to consider:
“Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply.”
“Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, said that it respects people’s rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.”
These quotes need to be considered within the context of:
“The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co. and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said that it supports voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking the products aren’t safe, even though the FDA has said there’s no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.” (same article).
We rely on the press to keep us informed and assume that what is being presented bears on the world we all experience in common (as opposed to the press reporting fantasy, fiction or something contrived ala’ Orson Wells). The first quote given in the AP story is glaringly inaccurate. GM plants may be from seeds that are engineered to resist herbicides, but why insecticides? The description may be inaccurate, or maybe the insecticides applied afterward ARE detrimental to… who (or what)? Within the context of the pronouncement of the lobbying group, Biotechnology Industry Organization, something, for someone, is unsafe here. We’ll return to this later. “Monsanto Co…. maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.” likewise is inaccurate. It is excellent marketing though. Studies in India by various individuals and research centers shows that not only not to be the case, but the exact opposite (see Vandana Shiva’s various extensively referenced recent studies on this matter). Which brings us back to the first quote. “We rely on the press to keep us informed and assume that what is being presented bears on the world we all experience in common (as opposed to the press reporting fantasy, fiction or something contrived).” In this case the press has simply taken marketing PR presented by the industries involved in the story as definitive – and passed it on to the reader. When a pet owner attempts to eliminate fleas, ticks and mosquitoes through the application of magic drops to their pet’s skin, or a pill or injection, this is what is called a systemic insecticide. The organism itself now contains the insecticide utilized to ward off, well, insects. GM plants likewise are engineered to contain systemic insecticides (as well as “resist”?). GM sugar beets (look at the label of where your sugar comes from) as well as soybeans, corn, etc. have these qualities. The European Union found that these plants were threatening wildlife (insects, small animals, etc.) and banned their use. In the context of the lobbying group’s quote, it is perfectly understandable to not want to confuse the consumer with the fact that the ingredients might be deadly to some organisms, but not humans. Back to Monsanto’s quote and why the American Press consuming this PR is so troubling to Newark and its surrounds. Following Monsanto’s recent Supreme Court victory regarding its seeds being considered as intellectual property and thus any second, third, etc. generation seeds utilized as, well, seeds (not as intellectual property) being in violation of US patent law, various articles appeared covering this decision (Bowman vs. Monsanto Co.). “Monsanto demands exclusive right to supply that seed” reports NPR (Supreme Court Rules For Monsanto In Case Against Farmer 5-13-13). Richard Wolf in USA Today “Supreme Court Sides With Monsanto In Major Patent Case (5-13-13) reports that The Center For Food Safety “found that from 1995-2011, the average cost to plant 1 acre of soybeans rose 325%”. This was corroborated by a different AP story (unreferenced) appearing at this time that noted the cost of GM seed to be triple that of retained seed. This is corroborated by yet another story “Trouble on the farm: ‘We face a grim future’” (Mark Koba CNBC 5-20-13). Some notable quotes from that article:
“A Kansas Farm Management Association report says that the number of farmers with a 40 percent debt ratio is higher now than it was in 1979 and that farms with a debt ratio of more than 70 percent are three times as many today.”
“A report released last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City warns that if farmers use their accumulated wealth instead of profits to finance their agricultural investments, they could end up in greater debt, risk bankruptcies and potentially face the loss of their farms.”
“The USDA predicts a 25 percent decline in farm profits for 2014, as commodity prices level off and exports are reduced.”
“”Not too long ago it took $400 to grow an acre of corn,” Schriver said. “Now its $1,000 an acre of corn. A bag of seed was around $35-40 an acre. Now it’s $245 or more. It’s getting very expensive to farm.”” [Jim Shriver, OSU grad farms 1,600 acres in Indiana]
No surprise here. GM seed requires various herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers (patented of course) produced and marketed (as completely safe for humans) by the members of The Biotechnology Industry Organization. No surprise either that this same scenario of an agriculture increasingly centered on financial resources, as opposed to those associated with farming, led to the demise of farming, and increase of rural poverty and hunger in India over the last 15 years.
Today I did what I do every spring. I purchased a beautiful ripe melon. It was very tasty. I then planted some of the seeds in my garden so that later this summer I will have some more to eat. Farmers have been doing this for millennia. Now I have to wonder whether I didn’t inadvertently plant intellectual property instead of seed (and subject myself to a potential lawsuit). The power of the press doesn’t only include what is described and reported. It also is found with what is left out and not told.