The US government sponsored the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, opening June 23 in Sacramento, Calif., as an excuse to promote technologies the Third World does not need or want, Food First and Pesticide Action Network said. US officials promoted new technologies for food production, including genetic engineering, "to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world," but Timothy Byakola, director of Pesticide Action Network-East Africa, said, "We know the real causes of hunger in the Third World. There's enough food produced every day on the planet to feed everyone one and a half times over. Wealth concentration and food distribution are the causes of world hunger, and the technologies touted at this conference do nothing to address these issues."
"The Bush Administration and the biotech industry are shamelessly using the poverty and hunger of the Third World to further their corporate agenda," said Anuradha Mittal, co-director of Food First. "The Third World has been largely united against genetically engineered crops, as is evident from the rejection of GE aid by India, Zambia, and Sudan." For more information on the debate, moderated by author and TV host Mark Hertsgaard, see www.foodfirst.org.
Family farmers from throughout the USA dumped genetically engineered (GE) corn at the conference to bring attention to the distortions and lies being perpetuated by the Bush administration and the biotechnology industry in the promotion of GE seeds and foods. "Family farmers have suffered significant economic losses from the use of GE products," said Walter Kessler, California dairy farmer and vice president of Family Farm Defenders, "but the truth about GE crops and their impacts on family farmers is being buried in the slick multi-million dollar public relations campaign being waged by the biotechnology industry and promoted by the USDA, primary sponsors of this conference."
"We are here to stand in solidarity with farmers, consumers and governments throughout the world who do not want to raise, eat or import food that has been contaminated through genetic engineering," said George Naylor, Iowa corn and soybean farmer and president of the National Family Farm Coalition (nffc.net). "There are legitimate concerns relating to the impact of genetic engineering on food and the environment. Every nation should have the right to adopt a food production system that is in the best interests of their farmers, their citizen and their country."
The US recently filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to force the European Union to accept GMO crops and food products. The EU has a regulatory system based on the "precautionary principle," by which bioengineered products must be proven safe before being allowed into commercial production. The EU has taken the position that GE crops and food products have not met that standard. As a result the EU has imposed a defacto moratorium on the approval of new GE crops until a comprehensive regulatory can be put into place. The US challenge is based on the proposition that no scientific evidence exists that GE foods are harmful despite the fact that the regulatory system in the US does not require independent research on the environmental and health impacts of GMO crops. US patent law also provides loopholes to biotechnology companies to avoid disclosure of negative environmental and public health impacts by claiming violation of intellectual property rights and confidential business information.
"The filing of the WTO complaint just before this conference being attended by the agricultural ministers of 120 countries is no coincidence," says S'ra DeSantis, Vermont organic producer. "The US is sending a clear message to the agricultural ministers around the world that you either come along with us on biotechnology or we will use our economic might to jam GE crops and products down your throats," adds DeSantis. "That use of economic blackmail is absolutely despicable."
TRIB THREAT: DON'T PICK ON OUR SCABS. Orlando Weekly editors heard from an Orlando Sentinel lawyer after promising to name Sentinel staffers who sign up to replace Baltimore Sun workers in event of a strike. Attorney William B. Wilson put the Weekly on notice "that a publication of the names of these workers creates a palpable threat of harm to those employees and their families." Wilson goes on to say, "... such a wrongful naming would hold that person in a False Light [sic] making the publication responsible for the injuries that would arise from the publication." The Tribune Co. was recruiting scabs from its 10 daily newspapers, including the Sentinel, to replace unionized workers at the Baltimore Sun who were threatening to go on strike if they don't reach a contract agreement by June 24. Orlando Weekly's sister publication in Baltimore, City Paper, has also been following the story at www.citypaper.com (see "Sun blocked"). Even though Tribune Co. made $443 million in profit last year, the company wants Sun workers to accept a one-year wage freeze, give up cost-of-living increases and cut sick leave to five days a year. [ED'S NOTE: After we went to press, the Baltimore Sun editorial employees accepted the contract terms.]
MEDICARE DRUG PLAN SPLITS LIBS. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has advised skeptical liberal allies to take the Medicare drug benefit deal the GOP is offering. "This is an opening," Kennedy told the New York Times. "Democrats don't have many openings with this administration or with a Republican Senate and a Republican House, and we ought to take advantage of it." Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is one of those skeptics. "I have always been taught that a good lawyer compromises on the courthouse steps," said Harkin, who told the Times Kennedy's early backing set back the Democratic opposition. Some liberal advocacy groups fear that Kennedy is providing an opening for a conservative plan to turn Medicare over to private insurance companies. But Kennedy said the Senate proposal would be a $400 billion down payment on a more comprehensive drug benefits package. Kennedy said the failure of President Clinton's comprehensive health plan in 1994 convinced him that the way to make health care policy gains was incrementally. He added that Democrats would still have a potent political weapon: the argument that voters should send more of them to Congress to improve the initiative. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a backer of Medicare since its creation in 1965, has mixed feelings about Kennedy's approach, but he got Kennedy to write a letter disavowing the Republican-written House version which is tilted much more toward private insurance companies and HMOs.
IRAQ FRAMEUP NOT NEWS. When former Gen. Wesley Clark told anchor Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press June 15 that Bush administration officials engaged in a campaign to implicate Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks, starting the very day of the attack, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted that Clark's statement was notable for the buzz it failed to generate. Clark said that he'd been called from the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, and was urged to link Baghdad to the terror attacks, but declined to do so because of a lack of evidence. (For a transcript of the exchange see www.fair.org.)
Clark's statement corroborated a CBS Evening News story that aired on Sept. 4, 2002. Correspondent David Martin then reported: "Barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, the secretary of defense was telling his aides to start thinking about striking Iraq, even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks." According to CBS, a Pentagon aide's notes from that day quote Rumsfeld asking for the "best info fast" to "judge whether good enough to hit SH at the same time, not only UBL." (The initials SH and UBL stand for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.) The notes then quote Rumsfeld as demanding, ominously, that the administration's response "go massive ... sweep it all up, things related and not."
Despite its implications, Martin's report was greeted largely with silence when it aired. Now, nine months later, media are starting to cover damaging revelations about the Bush administration's intelligence on Iraq, yet they still seem strangely reluctant to pursue stories suggesting that the flawed intelligence -- and therefore the war -- may have been a result of deliberate deception, rather than incompetence. The public deserves a fuller accounting of this story, FAIR said.
DEMS SEEK PROBE OF WESTAR DONATIONS. Two leading Democrats are calling for Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate campaign donations from Westar Energy Inc. executives to top congressional Republicans. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, and Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, have written letters to Ashcroft seeking an inquiry, the Kansas City Star reported June 19. McAuliffe also called for Ashcroft to recuse himself from any investigation because he received donations for his 2000 Senate race from two people with close ties to Westar -- lobbyist Richard H. Bornemann and Carl Koupal, Westar's former chief administrative officer. An internal Westar investigation uncovered a plan for company executives to donate more than $55,000 to several House Republicans, including Rep. Tom Delay of Texas, the House majority leader; Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who serves on the committee, in an effort to win congressional backing for a federal law change that would have exempted Westar from some state and federal regulatory oversight. The internal investigation concluded that Westar's political activities may have violated federal election laws. The Westar documents allege that three Republicans asked the company to contribute to several House Republicans facing difficult 2002 re-elections.
Westar correspondence also indicated that a $25,000 donation to a political committee associated with US House Majority Leader DeLay was required to get a "strong position at the table" on federal utility legislation. The Westar donation to Texans for a Republican Majority was part of a $1.5 million campaign to help the GOP gain a majority in the Texas House of Representatives, the Houston Chronicle reported June 22. DeLay's ultimate plan, still unfolding, is for that new Republican state House to draw Texas congressional districts that would solidify the GOP hold on the US House. The Westar contribution was part of at least $433,000 that Texans for a Republican Majority raised from out-of-state corporations, lobbyists and federal contractors who stood to gain from friendly relations with the powerful majority leader. DeLay dismissed the connections between the Westar legislation and the donations to Texans for a Republican Majority. "It never ceases to amaze me that people are so cynical they want to tie money to issues, money to bills, money to amendments," DeLay told reporters.
DEMS QUESTION W TROOP SUPPORT. Congressional Democrats are starting to question George W. Bush's treatment of the military. Bush's critics say he has rewarded US troops' heroism by skimping on their housing benefits, their tax cuts, their health care and education for their children. The Democratic staff on the House Appropriations Committee reports that Bush, by cutting about $200 million from assistance to public schools serving military bases, would pare education funding disproportionately for children of soldiers who fought in Iraq. That in on top of Bush's signature on the latest tax cut, which failed to extend a child tax credit to nearly 200,000 low-income military personnel; a $1.5 billion reduction in his 2004 budget, to $9.2 billion from $10.7 billion, for military housing and the like; and a cut of $14.6 billion over 10 years in benefits paid through the Veterans Administration. "They're saying they unequivocally support the military, but then they make quite clear that the check is not in the mail," Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), the top Democrat on House Appropriations, was quoted in the Washington Post, referring to the administration. "They're taking actions that fly in the face of the support they profess for the military." Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a presidential candidate and Vietnam veteran, said he feels "very strongly" that the issue, particularly veterans' benefits, is a vulnerability for Bush. "The real test of patriotism is how you treat veterans and keep promises to people who wore the uniform," he said.
BUSH TAKES PUBLIC FUNDS BUT WON'T CONTRIBUTE. George W. Bush will raise more than $200 million so he can disregard campaign spending limits most of next year and bash potential Democratic opponents during the primary season. Then he will accept federal funds for the general election, although he does not contribute to that fund when he files his tax returns. Asked if there was "any dash of hypocrisy," Ari Fleischer said less than 10% of US taxpayers check the box to send money to the presidential campaign fund. "So I think the President is in pretty good company with a number of American people who do not check that box."
Bush might not get the free ride through the GOP primaries, however. Ralph Nader told Agence France Presse he might run for president again with the Green Party. Or he might run as an independent, or possibly even as a Republican. "Wouldn't that be interesting? A Republican run?" he mused. Asked why someone so closely identified with progressive causes would contemplate running for the White House as a candidate from a party on the other end of the political spectrum, Nader answered without missing a beat: "To give the American people a choice as to the political institutions they desire and the clean elections they deserve," he said. "Isn't that what politics should be all about?"
CONSERVATIVES NEED CONSCIENCE. Churchgoers of all faiths who are attracted to the Republican Party's moral posturing must start to assume responsibility for the gutting of social welfare programs by the state and national level they help elect. An editorial in the Catholic Key, newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., sets the tone as editor Albert de Zutter wrote that the combination of cuts in social programs and tax cuts for the rich is "simply unconscionable" and asked what Catholics are going to do about the situation. "It occurs to us that Catholics who consistently vote Republican would have the best chance of changing the minds and hearts of their senators and representatives. While both parties need conversion to the concept of social justice, the Republican Party seems especially in need of more concern for the poor. The rich man dressed in purple garments who dines sumptuously each day is well represented; it is Lazarus, covered in sores and lying by the rich man's door, who remains neglected." Other Christian pastors also appear to have glossed over the Sermon on the Mount as they cleave to the GOP skinflints.
GORE MULLS CABLE NETWORK. Former Vice President Al Gore has enlisted heavyweight media investor Steven Rattner to help develop his plan for a liberal-minded cable network, sources familiar with the embryonic venture told the Hollywood Reporter. Rattner, a fund-raiser for Gore's 2000 bid for the presidency, is principal manager of the Quadrangle Group, a well-connected investment firm that manages more than $1 billion in capital for numerous media companies. He also was an adviser to Comcast Corp. in its merger last year with AT&T Broadband and is a member of Cablevision Systems' board of directors. The Reporter said the network, if it is formed, is certain to lose plenty of money for years to come; it must be completely independent of the Democratic Party; and it must find hosts who are dynamic enough to appeal to a wide range of people, not just liberals. Such a network probably would end up on the digital tiers, with limited penetration and little advertising revenue, since cable operators are only interested in networks that entice people to buy digital service. There are about 36 million homes in the US with digital cable service, compared with about 85 million multichannel video homes.
GERRYMANDERING GO-AHEAD. Texas Republicans are determined to bull ahead with their plan to redraw congressional districts in a partisan gerrymander to reverse the current 17-15 Democratic advantage in the state's delegation. A few days after meeting with US House Majority Leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, Gov. Rick Perry ignored the state's problems finding the money to pay for public schools, health care for children and rehabilitation of disabled persons, calling instead for a special session of the Legislature to consider redistricting. DeLay complains that a majority of Texans voted for Republicans last year, so that should be reflected in the state's congressional makeup. If so, he should get Congress to allow proportional representation in congressional elections. See www.fairvote.org for proposals on fair elections, including HR 415, a bill sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings, D&endash; Fla., that would create a commission to analyze both the size of Congress and the method representatives are elected.
Otherwise, Texas could follow the lead of Iowa, where a nonpartisan bureau comes up with three alternatives for the Legislature to consider. Districts are required to be compact and contiguous and existing political subdivisions are to be respected as much as possible. Redistricting usually results in three or four of the state's five districts being competitive, compared with less than 10% of congressional districts being competitive elsewhere in the country. Actually, the Texas plan that is now in place was a nonpartisan map ordered by a federal court in 2001 after the Democratic House and the Republican Senate were unable to agree on a new map. Democrats managed to win in several congressional districts that had nominal Republican majorities in 2002, but the same election produced a Republican state House. So DeLay ordered up a new congressional redistricting map that carves up Democratic strongholds and links them to faraway precints to minimize Democratic majorities. It stinks, it has the imprimatur of the Karl Rove White House and the only good thing that can be said of it is it has woken Texas Democrats, who used to pride themselves on their bipartisanship, to the fact that after they shake hands with Texas Republicans they need to count their fingers.