Friday, August 01, 2008
French journalist Marie-Monique Robin takes a scattershot approach in her exposé of Monsanto, an American multinational chemical and biotechnology company responsible for some of the most toxic and environmentally damaging products ever sold.
Monsanto's list of accomplishments includes production of Agent Orange, PCBs, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and genetically modified crops such as Roundup Ready soybeans that, far from being a boon to farmers around the world, threaten their livelihood and undermine biodiversity.
Robin might have taken on any one of Monsanto's monstrous activities and made a compelling documentary, but instead she attacks on all fronts, opening one avenue of investigation after another, but never thoroughly exploring any one of them.
Her investigating tool is Google, and watching her scroll through highlighted entries and documents hardly makes for fascinating footage.
Monsanto was founded in St. Louis, Mo., in 1901 and became the largest chemical company of the 20th century. Among its most disastrous products were PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), used as insulating fluids and fire retardants.
Production of PCBs were banned in the 1970s, but in the little town of Anniston, Ala. where, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, Monsanto was permitted to dump the chemicals, their deadly effects are still felt.
Robin interviews a local man whose brother died of PCB-related cancer and shoots a poisonous-looking run-off before moving on to the next topic.
Robin traces the history of Monsanto's political influence in establishing the principle of "substantial equivalent" that allowed the company to market genetically modified agricultural products without approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
One of her interviewees, author and activist Jeremy Rifkin, talks about how "we were trying to say these things should be considered food additives." They weren't. In a 1987 film clip, then vice-president George Bush is seen touring a Monsanto bioengineering lab. Should Monsanto encounter any difficulties in winning approvals for its products, he tells his hosts, they can "call me. We're in the de-reg business."
Nothing was to get in the way of the United States becoming a world leader in biotechnology. Against the lame imagery of a revolving door, the film documents the passage of numerous Monsanto executives back and forth between the corporation and U.S. regulating agencies.
The documentary visits scientists in Britain and Canada who mysteriously lose their jobs after making findings injurious to Monsanto. The company is shown to have falsified scientific findings.
A trip back in time takes us to Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam War, and said to have contaminated three million people: Monsanto studies showed that its principal ingredient, dioxin, was not a human carcinogen.
On a global tour to reveal Monsanto's takeover of agriculture in countries such as Mexico, Paraguay and India, Robin shows how the company can bankrupt farmers with their patented seeds and accuse them of stealing when transgenic crops show up in their fields.
A food activist in India says of the company, "They want to own life." In Paraguay, the Roundup Ready soybeans are taking over the fields and herbicide is sprayed everywhere, killing ducks and harming children.
In 2007, Monsanto employed 18,000 workers in 50 countries. This film is not the first time the company has been accused of destroying ecosystems, causing disease and doing end-runs around scientists and governments. A Monsanto spokesperson is heard on a recording denying Robin an interview.
Now that The World According to Monsanto, which aired on European television this year, is available in English, it might reach the American public. But the likelihood is that this company will continue to do what it has always done: exactly what it wants.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Informal forum or global conspiracy?
CBC News Online | June 13, 2006
The seed was planted by one man - Joseph Retinger, who left Poland for Britain in 1911 and spent the next three decades working as a political adviser. After the Second World War, he became a leading advocate of the unification of Europe - at least the western part of the continent.
Retinger was alarmed by the growing influence of Soviet-style communism and a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Western Europe. In 1952, he persuaded Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and Belgian Prime Minister Paul Van Zeeland to help him organize an international conference. Prominent business people and politicians from several European countries and the United States would be invited. The goal: To provide a forum where influential people could meet and talk about ways that help promote understanding on both sides of the Atlantic - and prevent future wars.
They met at the Hotel de Bilderberg near Arnhem in the Netherlands for two days in May. The conference was deemed such a success that the group pledged to make it an annual event. They adopted the location of their first meeting place as the name of their new group.
The idea was to create an informal network of influential people who could consult each other privately and confidentially. They could focus on what their countries had in common and bounce ideas off each other that could make life better for everyone.
The group decided that it would invite 100 of the most powerful people in Europe and North America every year to meet behind closed doors at a different five-star resort. The group stresses secrecy: What's said at a Bilderberg conference stays at a Bilderberg conference. The organization says that encourages members to talk frankly, without the worry that what they say will wind up in the news.
Skeptics argue that the secrecy means Bilderberg members can spend their private time hatching plans to control the world politically and economically, ensuring that the rich and powerful maintain their grip on the levers of power while the rest of the population is enslaved to keep the economic machinery running. Bilderbergers, some have argued, have withheld cancer cures so as not to anger the global pharmaceutical industry. They've also kept technology out of the public domain that would allow cars to travel 75 kilometres on a litre of gas. Big Oil, apparently, would not approve.
The group has assembled at least three times in Canada, most recently June 8 to 11 this year at the Brookstreet Hotel in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata. According to a Bilderberg news release, prominent Canadians invited to the 2006 conference included former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, Paul Desmarais, CEO of Power Corporation, Gordon Nixon, president and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, and Heather Reisman, chair and CEO of Indigo Books.
They got to mingle with the likes of Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Richard Holbrooke, key American negotiator for 1995 Bosnian peace accords, Richard Perle, senior foreign policy adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, retired banker David Rockefeller, and Johann Koss, Norwegian Olympian and president of the Right to Play organization.
The news release also said some of the topics on the agenda of the Kanata meeting would be energy, Iran, terrorism and European-American relations. There were no news conferences or communiqués as the meeting wound up.
James Tucker - an American libertarian and journalist - has been a critic of the Bilderberg group for decades.
"When meeting last year in Rottach-Egern, Germany, Bilderberg called for dramatic increases in the price of oil. Oil prices started climbing immediately from $40 a barrel to $70," Tucker wrote in the days before the 2006 meeting.
Tucker says the group has used its meetings to organize wars and the overthrow of "unfriendly" leaders. It has also been accused of identifying politicians who are friendly to big business and backing their runs for power. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton spoke at a Bilderberg conference a year before his election victory, as did British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The current chairman, Belgian politician and businessman Etienne Davignon, says the steering committee that organizes the annual get-togethers is excellent at spotting talent.
Former prime ministers Paul Martin, Jean Chretien and Pierre Trudeau also made Bilderberg appearances.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took in the group's 2003 meeting in Versailles, France, while he was Opposition leader. But Tucker says the Bilderbergers are not pleased with Harper. It's because of Kyoto. The Bilderberg group, Tucker says, is behind the Kyoto Protocol. They're the ones who pushed it. Like they pushed NAFTA and the World Trade Organization - and "turned NATO into the UN's standing army. It's a step," Tucker writes, "on the road to creating world government."
Saturday, June 14, 2008
"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." George Orwell
The Lessons of History
1. Nobody learns from history.
What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on the principles deduced from it.
- G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History
2. Human motivations never change while our worldviews and expressions often do.
Please witness the two following ways of saying the same thing: the first from a traditional Navaho war chant, and the second an unofficial slogan from the US Army Rangers:
First: Hi! Ni! I am the man of flint! That's me! Four lightnings zigzag from me and return.
Second: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest m*****f***er in it.
3. Problems don't always have solutions.
My only solution for the problem of habitual accidents and, so far, nobody has asked me for my solution, is to stay in bed all day. Even then, there is always the chance that you will fall out.
- Robert Benchley, Chips off the old Benchley
4. Violence either solves problems or changes them.
That war is an evil is something that we all know, and it would be pointless to go on cataloguing all the disadvantages involved in it. No one is forced to go to war by ignorance, nor, if he thinks he will gain by it, is he kept out of it by fear. The fact is that one side thinks that the profits to be won outweigh the risks to be incurred, and the other side is ready to face this rather than accept an immediate loss.
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
5. What goes around, comes around.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them: for this is the law and the prophets.
- Matthew 7:12 (King James Version)
6. Trouble slides in on an exponential curve.
Go sir, gallop, and don't forget that the world was made in six days. You can ask me for anything you like, except time.
- Napoleon Bonaparte
7. Never discount randomness.
A little neglect may breed great mischief... for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost.
- Benjamin Franklin, preface to The Courteous Reader
8. History doesn't repeat itself, it just looks that way.
Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can only see one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave.
- H.A.L. Fisher, History of Europe
9. Progress is not inevitable.
For civilization is not something inborn or imperishable: It must be acquired anew by every generation, and any serious interruption in its financing or its transmission may bring it to an end.
- Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage
10. Today's radical may be tomorrow's conservative.
What have we learned in the middle of the journey? In brief, that the radical future is an illusion and that the American present is worth defending; and that we were part of a destructive generation whose work is not over yet.
- Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the '60s
11. Judge intention by core interest and power bases, not by statements.
With affection beaming in one eye, and calculation shining out of the other. - Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit
12. Good doesn't always triumph.
O judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts / And men have lost their reason.
- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar III, ii 
13. All politicians are crooked.
Politicians [are] a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men. I say this with the greater freedom because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.
- Abraham Lincoln, Speech, 1837
14. God does march on the side with the biggest battalions.
Whatever happens, we have got / The Maxim gun, and they have not.
- Hilaire Belloc, The Modern Traveller
15. It is a mistake to legislate people's behaviour.
Adam was but human - this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden.
- Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson
16. Mother Nature is more dangerous than we are.
Since the beginning of history malaria has killed half of the men, women and children that have died on the planet. It has outperformed all wars, all famines and all other epidemics.
- Andrew Nikiforuk, The Fourth Horseman
17. Talent only appears when the circumstances are right.
When a rising generation of educated people does not have to worry about securing its livelihood, about choice of profession, when it does not feel obligated to become accountants or lawyers, and can risk becoming artists or philosophers, or founding new theatres, or writing poetry, because it knows it can always find the means for making a living, that period always witnesses a cultural explosion.
- Norman Cantor, The American Century
18. Keep governments on a lean diet - or else.
The Emperor's unnumerable officials kept an eye even upon the humblest citizen... staggering under his crushing burden of taxes, in a state which was practically bankrupt, the citizen of every class had now become a mere cog in the vast machinery of government. In so far as the ancient world was one of progress in civilization, its history ended with the accession of Diocletian.
- J.H. Breasted, Ancient Times
19. The main factors are out of our hands.
To discuss civilization is to discuss space, land and its contours, climate, vegetation, animal species and natural or other advantages. It is also to discuss what humanity has made of these basic conditions.
- Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilization
20. Never trust those who would hammer square pegs into round holes.
Anyone who had once learned to submit absolutely to a collective belief and to renounce his eternal right to freedom and the equally eternal duty of individual responsibility will persist in this attitude, and will be able to set out with the same credulity and the same lack of criticism in the reverse direction, if another and manifestly 'better' belief is foisted upon his alleged idealism.
- Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self
21. Never attribute to cleverness that which is explainable by stupidity, serendipity and error.
The chapter of accidents is the longest chapter in the book.
- John Wilkes, attrib.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Environment correspondent, BBC News website
The Zeppelin station was among those showing a significant rise
Higher atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas methane noted last year are probably related to emissions from wetlands, especially around the Arctic.
Scientists have found indications that extra amounts of the gas in the Arctic region are of biological origin.
Global levels of methane had been roughly stable for almost a decade.
Rising levels in the Arctic could mean that some of the methane stored away in permafrost is being released, which would have major climatic implications.
The gas is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, though it survives for a shorter time in the atmosphere before being broken down by natural chemical processes.
Indications that methane levels might be rising after almost a decade of stability came last month, when the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) released a preliminary analysis of readings taken at monitoring stations worldwide.
Noaa suggested that 2007 had seen a global rise of about 0.5%.
Some stations around the Arctic showed rises of more than double that amount.
One is the station at Mount Zeppelin in Svalbard, north of Scandinavia.
In addition to the long-term monitoring carried out there by Norway and Sweden, a British team has recently started gathering samples and analysing them in a way that could reveal where the methane is coming from.
Methane produced by bacteria contains a high proportion of molecules with the lighter form (isotope) of carbon, carbon-12, rather than the heavier form, carbon-13.
I think 2007 is probably down to wetland emissions
Ed Dlugokencky, Noaa
"Anything where bacteria form methane, you get depletion in C-13 because methanogens (the bacteria) preferentially use C-12," said Rebecca Fisher from Royal Holloway, University of London, who has been running the Svalbard experiments.
"The results we have so far imply a predominantly biogenic source," she told BBC News.
The researchers also match methane levels with wind direction, so they can see where the gas is being produced. This analysis also implies a source in the Arctic regions, rather than one further afield such as the additional output from Asia's rapid industrialisation.
Warm and wet
Ed Dlugokencky, the scientist at Noaa's Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) who collates and analyses data from atmospheric monitoring stations, agrees that the 2007 rise has a biological cause.
"We're pretty sure it's not biomass burning; and I think 2007 is probably down to wetland emissions," he said.
"In boreal regions it was warmer and wetter than usual, and microbes there produce methane faster at higher temperatures."
Dr Dlugokencky also suggested that the drastic reduction in summer sea ice around the Arctic between 2006 and 2007 could have increased release of methane from seawater into the atmosphere.
Companies are looking to exploit the energy in methane hydrates
A further possibility is that the gas is being released in increasing amounts from permafrost as temperatures rise.
Researchers will be keeping a close eye on this year's data which will indicate whether 2007 was just a blip or the beginning of a sustained rise.
Methane concentrations had been more or less stable since about 1999 following years of rapid increases, with industrial reform in the former Soviet bloc, changes to rice farming methods and the capture of methane from landfill sites all contributing to the levelling off.
In the recent past, concentrations have risen during El Nino events, whereas the world is currently amid the opposite climatic pattern, La Nina.
An upturn in methane concentrations emissions could have significant implications for the Earth's climatic future.
A sustained release from Arctic regions or tropical wetlands could drive a feedback mechanism, whereby higher temperatures liberate more of the greenhouse gas which in turn forces temperatures still higher.
A particularly pertinent question is whether methane is being released from hydrates on the ocean floor.
These solids are formed from water and methane under high pressure, and may begin to give off methane as water temperatures rise.
The amount of the gas held in oceanic hydrates is thought to be larger than the Earth's remaining reserves of natural gas.
In collaboration with other British institutions, Dr Fisher's team will begin work this summer sampling water near hydrate deposits to look for indications of gas emerging.