But even people used to the closeness of the US administration and food giants like Monsanto have been shocked by the latest demonstration of the GM industry’s political muscle. Little-noticed in Europe or outside the US, President Barack Obama last week signed off what has become widely known as “the Monsanto Protection Act”, technically the Farmer Assurance Provision rider in HR 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2013
According to an array of food and consumer groups, organic farmers, civil liberty and trade unions and others, this hijacks the constitution, sets a legal precedent and puts Monsanto and other biotech companies above the federal courts. It means, they say, that not even the US government can now stop the sale, planting, harvest or distribution of any GM seed, even if it is linked to illness or environmental problems.
The backlash has been furious. Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the powerful Senate appropriations committee which was ultimately responsible for the bill, has apologised. A Food Democracy Now petition has attracted 250,000 names and sections of the liberal press and blogosphere are outraged. “This provision is simply an industry ploy to continue to sell genetically engineered seeds even when a court of law has found they were approved by US department of agriculture illegally,”says one petition. “It is unnecessary and an unprecedented attack on US judicial review. Congress should not be meddling with the judicial review process based solely on the special interest of a handful of companies.”
Some day (hopefully), this sort of over-reach and the near-complete subjugation of Congress to corporate interests and money will outrage enough Americans that real change will be possible.
I guess today must be corporate (un)democracy day. Since I’ve already hit up the livestock industry, and its seeming power to keep the details of its highly questionable use of antibiotics to itself, why not hop on over to the lobbying of the GMO industry, courtesy of Mark Bittman:
Genetic engineering in agriculture has disappointed many people who once had hopes for it. Excluding, of course, those who’ve made money from it, appropriately represented in the public’s mind by Monsanto. That corporation, or at least its friends, recently managed to have an outrageous rider slipped into the 587-page funding bill Congress sent to President Obama.
The rider essentially prohibits the Department of Agriculture from stopping production of any genetically engineered crop once it’s in the ground, even if there is evidence that it is harmful.
That’s a pre-emptive Congressional override of the judicial system, since it is the courts that are most likely to ask the U.S.D.A. to halt planting or harvest of a particular crop. President Obama signed the bill last week (he kind of had to, to prevent a government shutdown) without mentioning the offensive rider  (he might have), despite the gathering of more than 250,000 signatures protesting the rider by the organization Food Democracy Now!
Bittman goes on to explain how crop seeds that are modified to tolerate weed killers like Roundup (so more Roundup can be used), in the long term lead to the development of weeds that are also resistant to Roundup. It’s sort of like the way in which the use of antibiotics in livestock leads to bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and another great example of how short term thinking tends to overwhelm consideration of the long term.
Presumably that will inspire Monsanto to develop additional GMOs, to try and stay ahead of the weeds, which will then catch up again, prompting Monsanto to…. Well, you can see how this goes.
This one comes from the Sunlight Foundation and is Reason #463 that your democracy really isn’t a democracy:
In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.
Ful details are here. Read ’em and despair (and pledge NEVER to vote for any candidate that takes PAC or lobbying money).
But in a political climate where talk of the earthly kind of climate can be radioactive, the answer in last week’s budget deal was “no.” Congress barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a “one-stop shop” for climate information.
Demand for such data is skyrocketing, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told Congress earlier this year. Farmers are wondering when to plant. Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates.
But the climate service, first floated under President George W. Bush, became predictably politicized.
It would be nice if the story were more explicit about who politicized the idea, and killed it. But whatever.
Anyhow, of course there’s only one way to fittingly honor this willful denial:
It was in his Tallahassee office that Schweizer began what he thought was a promising research project: combing through congressional financial-disclosure records dating back to 2000 to see what kinds of investments legislators were making. He quickly learned that Capitol Hill has quite a few market players. He narrowed his search to a dozen or so members—the leaders of both houses, as well as members of key committees—and focused on trades that coincided with big policy initiatives of the sort that could move markets.
While examining trades made around the time of the 2003 Medicare overhaul, Schweizer experienced what he calls his “Holy crap!” moment. The legislation, which created a new prescription-drug entitlement, promised to be a huge boon to the pharmaceutical industry—and to savvy investors in the Capitol. Among those with special insight on the issue was Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the health subcommittee of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. Kerry is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate and heavily invested in the stock market. As the final version of the drug program neared approval—one that didn’t include limits on the price of drugs—brokers for Kerry and his wife were busy trading in Big Pharma. Schweizer found that they completed 111 stock transactions of pharmaceutical companies in 2003, 103 of which were buys.
“They were all great picks,” Schweizer notes. The Kerrys’ capital gains on the transactions were at least $500,000, and as high as $2 million (such information is necessarily imprecise, as the disclosure rules allow members to report their gains in wide ranges). It was instructive to Schweizer that Kerry didn’t try to shape legislation to benefit his portfolio; the apparent key to success was the shaping of trades that anticipated the effect of government policy.
It’s all part of a reality in which Congress is a path to wealth, or increasing wealth, which is one reason legislators so often fail to put the national interest first, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stay in their jobs.
This chart comes from an op-ed by Zeke Emanuel, one of a handful of people everyone should listen to when it comes to reinventing our failed health care system. Emanuel argues that we can spend less on health care without compromising health outcomes, and here is his key point:
The truth is, the United States is not getting 20 or 30 percent better health care or results than other countries. While there are peaks of greatness, especially at some of America’s leading academic health centers and in integrated health care plans, the quality is uneven. And quality is a problem that affects all of us, rich and poor. Almost no matter how we measure it — whether by life expectancy or by survival for specific diseases like asthma, heart disease or some cancers; by the rate of medical errors; or simply by satisfaction with health services — the United States is actually doing worse than a number of countries, like France and Germany, that spend considerably less.
About half of all the health care dollars spent comes from the U.S. government. Which means that if we simply got over our hangups about “European” social programs and adopted the health care system of, say, France, we could have universal health care in the United States with no increase in the amount of money the Federal government is already contributing. And get better health outcomes.
The fact that we don’t is all you need to know about how ossified and absurd our thinking is on health care, and how the lobbies for the status quo have corrupted Congress and are stealing us blind.