The GMO Fix Is In

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.[1]

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 [2] (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.

Post-Election Fun Facts: Money, Money, Money!

I don’t buy that all the SuperPac spending didn’t make a difference just because Romney lost. In any case, the money will only get smarter and find better leverage with each electoral cycle.

Which is why it’s worth a reminder of of how money played this year, and how much has changed since 2008:

1. Estimated amount of disclosed spending in the 2012 election: $6 billion

2. Amount of dark money (money with no donor disclosure) spent in the 2008 election:$70 million

Minimum amount of dark money known to have been spent on the 2012 election: $213 million

3. Amount super-PACs, dark money groups, and other outside groups spent in October: $526 million

4. Percentage of all super-PAC money from just 163 people who gave $500,000 or more: 70 percent

5. Percentage of outside spending coming from disclosed donors in 2004: 96.5 percent

Percentage in 2012: 40.5 percent

6. Amount the Koch brothers are known to have donated to candidates and parties in 2012: $411,000

Amount of dark money they have pledged to spent to defeat Barack Obama: $60 milion

7. Percentage of dark money spent on federal elections that went to electing Republicans and defeating Democrats: 80 percent

8. Percentage of the 1 million-plus ads run by the Obama and Romney campaigns and their allies between April and October that were negative: 87 percent

Lots more from Mother Jones on Dark Money here. And if it makes you want to do something about it, here’s the best place to go.

Jack Abramoff’s Playbook On How To Buy Congress

When you want to know how to rob a bank, it’s good to listen to a bank robber. When you want to know how to buy votes in Congress, it’s good to listen to Jack Abramoff, who just published an autobiography and appeared on 60 Minutes.

Abramoff was convicted for buying influence in Congress, but his playbook on how he operated tells you all you need to know about how corrupt our system is, and why Congress consistently puts special interests above the public interest.

One of his most effective tactics, Abramoff says, was to promise Congressional staffers high paying jobs:

The movement of congressional figures to lobbying is pervasive in Washington. The Internet site LegiStorm tracks those who move from the Hill to K Street, where many lobbying firms have offices, and says there have been 493 already this year.

Abramoff said he would often get access inside congressional offices by suggesting to key staffers that they come work for him when they were finished with their congressional careers.

“Assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequentially, the entire office,” Abramoff writes. “No rules had been broken, at least not yet. No one even knew what was happening, but suddenly, every move that staffer made, he made with his future at my firm in mind. His paycheck may have been signed by the Congress, but he was already working for me.”

The Congress to K St and back connection is one of the reasons Congress has become just one more way for people to get rich. And the reason lobbying shops can pay high salaries is that they can charge high fees to corporate clients for special legislative provisions that are worth billions. Stop the money that the lobbying shops spread around Congress, which buys those legislative give-aways, and you can make K St a lot less profitable, and limit the allure of K St. and the corrupting influence the promise of a job on K St. has for the thousands who are supposed to be representing your interests in Congress.

But how to do that? Water flows downhill, and money flows into Congress, one way or another, despite every effort to write rules to regulate or limit it. That’s why the only solution–if you want a Congress that isn’t corrupted by money–is to take this simple step: do not vote for any candidate who takes lobbying and PAC money, no matter how much you might agree with their views.

It’s a demand side solution, in contrast to the failed supply side solution of trying to craft laws and regulations which in the end always have loopholes or run into constitutional problems. And if enough voters draw this line, you might get some candidates who you believe in and who are not beholden to special interest money. What would that be like?

It might seem like a radical ask. But watch this 60 Minutes segment and then see how you feel about it.