This week: Time slams public school teachers; what did their "bad apples" cover story get wrong? Plus we look at how ABC is framing the climate change debate among Republican politicians, and we note that election season pundits shouldn't confuse the message they're hearing from a minority of the population that votes with "the public."
The chatter around Kill the Messenger, the film based on the life of investigative reporter Gary Webb, has mostly faded. But this week USA Today ran a column that mangled the basic facts of Webb's reporting.
Watch part 2 of our conversation with Sheldon Krimsky, editor of The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk. He is a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, as well as an adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health and Family Medicine at Tufts School of Medicine. Professor Krimsky is also a board member of the Council for Responsible Genetics.
Click here to watch part 1 of this interview.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. Seventy-five percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves in the United States—from cracker, to soda, to soup—contain genetically engineered ingredients. Public concern has been steadily intensifying. The Vermont Legislature has passed a GMO labeling law, and now voters in Colorado and Oregon are voting on GMA labeling ballot initiatives.
Sheldon Krimsky is with us today, the editor and author of several contributions in the new book, The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk. He is a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, as well as an adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health and Family Medicine at Tufts School of Medicine. Professor Krimsky is also a board member of the Council for Responsible Genetics.
Welcome to Democracy Now! for part two of our conversation. Now, you tell a remarkable story about the scientists who get destroyed as they attempt to look at GMO foods. But before we do, what is the problem with genetically modified foods? Why in the United States are 75 percent of our foods have ingredients that are genetically modified, but in Europe, in state after state, it's completely outlawed? Why the difference?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: The Europeans operate on the precautionary principle. They say, if you introduce a new product on the market, you should evaluate it before the consumers get a chance to purchase it. In America, we made a decision that genetically modified foods are safe before you even have to test it. So the government never required tests for GMOs in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Who made that decision?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, that decision was made by a commission, first of all, in the United States headed by Dan Quayle, and then it was—
AMY GOODMAN: The vice president under President Bush.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yes, yes, that's correct. And by the 1990s, the decision was made how to divide the regulatory authority over genetically modified organisms—plants, animals, etc. And there were three agencies. The EPA would deal with environmental effects. USDA would be dealing with how it affects agriculture. And the FDA would be addressing the questions of human health.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why are you concerned?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, because we have some evidence that animal studies can produce adverse effects when fed GMOs. There have been many studies. Many of them have said there's no effects. But a few of them—I found 22 studies.
AMY GOODMAN: Give an example of one of these studies.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, one of these studies was published in one of the most important journals in international journals. It's called The Lancet. It started publishing—
AMY GOODMAN: That's the British medical journal.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: The British medical journal. It's among the most prestigious journals in the world. And that was published in 1999 by a scientist who lived in Britain for 50 years—originally he was born in Hungary—Árpád Pusztai. And he was a researcher at the Rowett Institute. And he published a study which showed that his animals were harmed when fed a genetically modified potato.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to this scientist, to the biochemist, the nutritionist, Árpád Pusztai, world authority, as you said, actually on plant lectins, authoring some 270 papers, three books on the topic. In 1998, the scientist published research that showed feeding genetically modified potatoes to rats caused harm to their stomach lining and immune system. This led to a backlash against Dr. Pusztai and his subsequent suspension from his academic home, the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. Let's turn to a clip of Pusztai explaining the experiment he did using these genetically modified potatoes, the experiment that unleashed such a firestorm of criticism.
ÁRPÁD PUSZTAI: What we did was that, first, we took the genetically modified potatoes and put as much as possible of this into the diet, and we fed rats on it for a short time, 10 days. That's an appropriate time in most of the nutritional studies as a sort of preliminary, short-term study. And we found that there were some problems. And then we said, "Oh, but it is—is it possible that if we dilute it with a good protein, a non-GM protein, would these problems disappear? Would you dilute them out? So when we did that, we found that, no, it didn't. The problems persisted, and particularly the problems affecting the gastrointestinal tract of the rats.
The problems were that the genetically modified potatoes induced what we call a proliferative growth in the small intestine. And I shall explain what it means. But before I do that, the most important thing was that we pre-selected the gene that its product should not do that. So, we spent six-and-a-half years of selecting out a gene whose product wouldn't do the thing which we did see in the genetically modified potatoes.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Professor Sheldon Krimsky, that's Árpád Pusztai.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain further what exactly he's saying. Now, he was actually not critical of these genetically modified potatoes that he fed to rats, right?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: That's correct. And his institute had a patent on those potatoes. I mean, after all, if you can produce a potato that would be resistant to insects, then you'd save money on pesticides, and you might be able to, you know, have a product that would be worthy of pesticidal properties. So he took protein from a flower, a snowdrop flower. And that protein—the genetics for that protein was put into the potato. But he honestly believed that he would have a safe outcome. He had already done an experiment with genetically modified peas, which did not show adverse effects on animals. And he felt that—the protein that he used, he fed to the animals when it wasn't in the potato, so he felt the protein from the plant was going to be safe. And then he put it into the genetically modified potato, and then he fed it to the animals when it was embedded into the potato. And that's when it caused the effects.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain again the effects.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, the effects he found were effects of the stomach lining of the animals, that there were proliferative growths in the stomach lining and other abnormalities in the intestines of the animals.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain then—so he did this scientific experiment. That's what he found. It's published in this very prestigious journal, Lancet.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happened to him, Dr. Pusztai?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, first of all, he published in Lancet in 1999. And prior to that, 1995, Scotland had put out a request for scientific studies to evaluate genetically modified food. So he put in one of those requests. At the time, he was the project director of eight projects. He was very well respected and had written a number of books on these lectins, which are insecticidal proteins. The plants themselves have proteins that resist insects. That's how they survived all those years. So, his project was accepted by the council in Scotland, and then he did the research for it. So it was already reviewed before it was accepted for funding. And he got 1.3 million pounds to do the study. That's where it began.
Prior to publishing his study in The Lancet, he was asked to appear on television. And he's not a political—you know, he's not a politicized scientist. He was naive. He went on television, with the approval of the director of the Rowett Institute. And the Rowett Institute, for one day, was very excited, because they got publicity being on TV with his research. The day after, all of a sudden, all of the phone calls started coming into the Rowett Institute, political phone calls from politicians—Tony Blair's office, etc. And then, within a day, he was dismissed from his position. Within a day, this man who had been working there for decades and had such a prominent position, all of a sudden, lost his entire position.
AMY GOODMAN: Dismissed on what grounds?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: He did not have tenure, the way we do in universities—dismissed because they felt—they believed his research was not good. At least that's what they said. What they didn't say was that there were political pressures on the institute to devalue and diminish and marginalize his study.
AMY GOODMAN: What was Blair's interest, the prime minister at the time, in negating, in going after the scientist, in genetically modified food?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: The United States had been the primary country that's promoting biotechnology and trying to transfer it all over the world. So, the Clinton administration was very high on biotechnology. It's going to rejuvenate American high technology and create many jobs, etc., and be able to spread it throughout the world. Blair was very interested in getting biotechnology into Britain. So, the U.S. government and the British government were both very interested in pushing biotechnology. And, of course, in the background were the corporations who were politicking those two governments to make sure that biotechnology had an easy road to success.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another scientist. In 2012, French scientists carried out a study linking pesticide-treated, genetically modified corn with cancer in lab rats. The journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology initially published the report but later retracted it amidst controversy. The scientists stood by their findings, releasing a statement that read in part, quote, "Censorship of research into the risks of a technology so intertwined with global food safety undermines the value and credibility of science." Their article was republished this year in a different journal, Environmental Sciences Europe. I want to turn for a moment to the lead author on the study, Gilles-Éric Séralini. He recently told ME-TV what happened to the rats that were fed genetically modified corn and Roundup weed killer.
GILLES-ÉRIC SÉRALINI: Abnormalities in livers and kidneys, inflammations and pathologies, and we had also inversion of sexual hormones and also breast tumors.
AMY GOODMAN: That's the scientist, Gilles-Éric Séralini. If you can, Professor Krimsky, explain further what he found.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, he found organ failure. First of all, he did one of the first long-term experiments. So, in other words, he did an experiment on the rats that lasted for a couple of years. Usually they would do a 90-day experiment on the animals. So this was a long-term experiment, which really was needed, because some of these effects you won't see right away. And his results showed damage to organs, kidneys, and also proliferation of tumors at a much higher rate than the controls. And after his results came out, there was another surge of vilification of his work and his research and his reputation, on and on and on.
A few very unusual things happened. The first you mentioned, that his journal first supported him and said, "We have a very good refereed system, and he passed the referees," to get into this peer-reviewed journal. Within a year, however, they changed their mind, because of the political pressure that there was a solid journal, American U.S. journal, that said there were problems with one of the genetically modified products. So, the journal went ahead and retracted his article, without his permission.
And then they gave the reason for the retraction. And this is where a hundred scientists had signed a petition saying that the reasons they gave were not only unorthodox, they violated international standards. The reason they gave was very explicit. They said, "There is no fraud. There is no clear mistakes in this paper. The results were not definitive, and that's why we're retracting it." Now, if you use that criteria, you would have to retract 95 percent of all published work.
AMY GOODMAN: What does "definitive" mean?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, "definitive" means that it hasn't resolved the controversy, that some people still believe that maybe he didn't have enough rats. Maybe they would have changed the methodology slightly differently. There isn't an experiment in toxicology that can be done which doesn't have some shortcomings. Everybody knows that.
AMY GOODMAN: Or you reach a kind of critical mass in your studies indicating a trend; no one study actually proves it.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Exactly. There's no single study that can absolutely definitively prove it, so you need follow-up studies to account for criticisms or larger numbers of animals, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Krimsky, can you explain what "the funding effect" is, a term you've coined with your colleagues?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Many years ago, we began looking at what happens to scientific research when it's heavily funded by corporate interests. And we started by looking at drug research. And as a result of publishing a few papers, other people started doing these studies, and there is now a body of research in the drug industry which shows that corporate funding of research tends to produce the outcomes favorable to the financial interests of the corporation. That's what we mean by "the funding effect." You have to show that the effect exists for any particular area. You can't just assume it exists. So there are methods for showing that there is a funding effect. We've shown it in tobacco, we've shown it for drug research, in the best journals that we have, that have accepted these studies. And now people are beginning to look at it in other fields, like chemical toxins and GMOs.
AMY GOODMAN: How are other countries dealing with genetically modified foods?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, it's interesting, because when you look at the studies that have been done that have negative outcomes—and I say I found 22 of them in the literature—they're almost all done by European scientists. In order to do a study of a genetically modified plant seed in the United States, you have to have funding. Funding doesn't come from the federal government, because the federal government has said, "We don't need information about this." So the only funding that can produce these results is funding from corporations.
Secondly, you have to have permission from the company that manufactures the seeds to do this kind of research, to get the seeds, the special seeds that you need from the company. And they won't release the seeds. So, people like Pusztai and Professor Séralini—well, Pusztai produced his own potato. Séralini had to get the seeds from some other source, not from the company. Pusztai could not get seeds from Monsanto. Monsanto signs—everyone who purchases seeds from Monsanto has to sign a contract with them. And one of the provisions of that contract is they cannot save their seeds, and they cannot deliver their seeds to some institute for study. In other words, Monsanto has complete control over the seeds, as well as other companies, so that it's not even possible for researchers to do the work they need to do, unless they get permission from the companies.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to the claim that GMOs will feed the world? Explain also the difference between genetically modified vegetables, plants—wait, can you respond to the claim that GMOs will feed the world, genetically modified organisms?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, this claim has been made by a number of people, but there's no evidence for it. It may very well be that for a certain farm in a certain region, that a particular GMO might give them higher productivity in that particular area. But the world is filled with different regions of, you know, ecological regions, and seeds that work in one region do not necessarily work in another region. That's what we call agroecology. We have to understand that you have to match the seed to the region, and not match the region to the seed. That's why you don't necessarily have high productivity in every region of the world. Some of the Indian farmers did not get high productivity with GMOs. And unfortunately, some of them committed suicide.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: The Indian farmers had a high rate of suicide in the last few years, and that's because many of them got into intense debt, and they couldn't pay their debt. And in their mental capacity, they felt the only way to deal with this was to take their lives, unfortunately. Part of that debt was due to the fact that they were purchasing GMO seeds, which were at a higher rate than the seeds that they were originally purchasing.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! just traveled to Austria, and I was speaking to an Austrian farmer who was saying, "We recognized in our country, which is why we made it GMO-free," he said, "that you can't have an organic farm next to a farm that's growing genetically modified plants, because there is drift, and you can't honestly have—say something is organic if you're right nearby something that isn't."
SHELDON KRIMSKY: That's correct. And the pollen flows can flow quite a distance, a number of kilometers, so that in the United States, if you have an organic farm, there's no protections for that organic farmer from the drift of pollen from another farm.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, hasn't Monsanto famously sued farmers, saying that they stole their genetically modified seeds, when in fact they drifted onto their property?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: As far as we know, the evidence suggests that the Canadian farmer that had the genetically modified plants didn't—
AMY GOODMAN: This is Percy Schmeiser?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yes, Schmeiser. As far as we know, evidence that I have is that he did not plant those seeds, that those seeds had drifted into his farm. And Monsanto sued him for intellectual property theft. And in some bizarre ruling of the Canadian court, Monsanto won. But the penalty was very, very low, like a dollar or something like that. So, Monsanto won, but Schmeiser didn't have to pay a severe penalty.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state to approve GMO labeling with the passage of HB 112. The legality of the decision is now being challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other national organizations, which have come together to file a lawsuit in federal court. The Grocery Manufacturers Association put out a statement that read in part, quote, "Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled 'certified organic.' The government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making HB 112's legality suspect at best." Your response to this, Professor Krimsky?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Well, it is true that right now, under government standards, if a product is classified as organic—and there are criteria for that, including non-GMO—that there is some level of confidence that they won't contain GMO products. But organic costs a lot of money. So there might be food companies that want to put out food that wouldn't be classified as organic, but would be classified as non-GMO. Just like there are plastic companies that want to put out their plastics and say, "We don't contain bisphenol A in our plastics," because there's been a lot of evidence that it might be harmful, and therefore consumers have the right to buy something that says, "No bisphenol A in this substance," they should have the right to buy some food products that say, you know, "No GMOs," even though they're not classified as organic, because the prices might be quite different.
AMY GOODMAN: Backers of GMOs cite the success of genetically modified papaya in Hawaii. It was designed to resist a virus that was killing off the fruit crop. It's the only commercially grown GMO fruit in the United States. According to The New York Times, "after an outbreak of Papaya ringspot virus in the mid-’90s, only the Rainbow, endowed with a gene from the virus itself that effectively gave it immunity, had saved the crop." Your response to that, Professor Krimsky?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: You know, one of the issues about biotechnology is that they try to put into the crop a pesticidal property. And in theory, you know, one might think that this would be terrific. You include the pesticide or the herbicide-resistant/tolerant into the crop. But nature has its own way of adapting. So if you put in herbicide-resistant into the crop, eventually the weeds will get resistant to the herbicide that you use. And that's in fact what's happening with glyphosate, which is the most widely used herbicide now in the United States. So, they have plants which are glyphosate-resistant, so you can spray all the herbicide on your plant; it'll kill everything else. But the weeds have adapted to it. So now they need a next generation of herbicide in the plant. So, the whole theory that you can introduce into the plants some magical protein that is going to be sustainable is just not a viable theory.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you referring to the superweeds that are growing throughout the West?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: The superweeds, exactly. And now the farmers are saying, "Hey, we bought into this glyphosate resistance, and now we're getting these weeds that are in fact resistant to the glyphosate." And now they're introducing a second generation. And one of the products that they're trying to introduce is 2,4-D, which was used in the Vietnam War as part of the herbicides, defoliants.
AMY GOODMAN: You're talking about Agent Orange. So—
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yes, it was part of the Agent Orange mix. And I have to say, Rachel Carson cited 2,4-D as a suspect chemical in her 1962 classic book, Silent Spring.
AMY GOODMAN: Considered the mother of the modern environmental movement, she would later die of cancer herself.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yes, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the significance of the ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oregon? In California and Washington state, genetically modified labeling bills failed.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything different about Colorado and Oregon right now?
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Colorado is always different. It's a very single-minded, independent state that pushed the boundaries beyond belief in terms of, you know, legislation on marijuana, etc. If any state can do it, they have a very high consciousness for environmental issues. And if they do do it, I think it'll cascade to other states, because I think the fear that the prices will skyrocket is just a scare tactic, it's not real. We have companies that issue milk that say, "No bovine growth hormone used to make this milk," and it hasn't skyrocketed the price of milk. So—
AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting that Ben & Jerry's and the Denver-based Chipotle company, the chain, food chain Chipotle—
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —have actually come out in support of GMO labeling, whereas you've got Pepsi and Kraft Foods and, well, most importantly, Monsanto pouring millions into the anti-labeling movement.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: Yeah. You know, the corporations don't want a patchwork of regulations. I could understand that. They always would rather have one regulation that applies to everyone. And so, from their standpoint, they don't want to have to make an adjustment to Colorado and an adjustment to this other state. But that doesn't—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, they wouldn't have to make an adjustment. If it was passed in Colorado and Oregon, they could just identify genetically modified foods all over the country.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: That's correct. That's correct.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, so goes Oregon and Colorado, so goes the nation.
SHELDON KRIMSKY: And that's exactly what happens when California passes as an initiative on a toxic chemical. The companies just list it on the product, and every state, every community, has access to that information. It's just a question of open information, which is really supposed to be at the groundwork of American capitalism. Keep the information open.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Professor Sheldon Krimsky, editor and author of The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know About the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk. You can read an introduction on our website at democracynow.org. Professor Krimsky teaches urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, as well, adjunct professor at the Tufts School of Medicine. Krimsky is also a board member of the Council for Responsible Genetics. This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.
We continue our conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eric Lichtblau about his new book detailing how America became a safe haven for thousands of Nazi war criminals. Many of them were brought here after World War II by the CIA, and got support from then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue our conversation with investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau, author of a new book that unveils the secret history of how America became a safe haven for thousands of Nazi war criminals. Many of them were brought here after World War II by the CIA and got support from the FBI's director, J. Edgar Hoover.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Lichtblau's book is called The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men. You can read the prologue on our website at democracynow.org.
Eric, we left the first part of the interview by you talking about those held in the concentration camps under the Nazis. Once the Allies won, the U.S. and Allies took over these camps.
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Jews and others were kept there, often under the supervision—if you could call it that—of the Nazi POWs who were put in these camps, as well.
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: The people who had killed and murdered and maimed them.
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you take it from there and talk about General Patton and, ultimately, President Truman, as well?
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure, yeah, yeah. It's a remarkable saga and a fairly shameful period in postwar history. We sort of think of the concentration camps, you know, being liberated at Dachau, at Bergen-Belsen, at Auschwitz, by the U.S. and Britain and Russia. But liberation for the survivors who were left in the camps meant staying in those same camps, behind barb wire, under armed guard. And remarkably, sometimes they were supervised by the same Nazis who had lorded over them when the Germans were still in charge.
And there was a report to Truman from the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a guy named Earl Harrison, that compared the camps to the Nazi concentration camps, except that, Harrison wrote, the only difference is we're not exterminating the Jews. And General Patton, who ran the camps as the supreme Allied commander for the United States after the war, was furious when he read Harrison's findings to Truman. And he wrote in his own journal—and I looked at these. I found the remarks so troubling and so jarring, I thought maybe at first they were a forgery, but it turned out to be true. He wrote in his own journal that what Harrison doesn't understand, he thinks that the displaced persons in the camps are human, and they're not. The Jews, he wrote—this is General Patton speaking—are worse than human, they're locusts, and they have no respect for human dignity. And he recounted taking General Eisenhower, soon to be President Eisenhower, on a tour of the displaced person camps, and he said that Eisenhower didn't really understand how loathsome the displaced persons were, and he thinks that they have some human dignity, when really they don't.
Patton, it turns out, was not only a virulent anti-Semite, but also held the Germans in a weird sort of place of respect. I also tell the story in the book about, in those displaced person camps, Patton went to the holding cells for the German POWs, the German scientists, and he sought out one in particular, General Walter Dornberger, who oversaw the production of Hitler's V-2 rockets, which had been phenomenally successful and destructive in bombing London and Antwerp. And Patton brings him out of the cell and says, "Are you Dornberger? Are you the guy who ran the V-2 program?" And Dornberger said to him, "Jawohl, Herr General." And Patton pulled out three cigars from his pocket and handed them to the Nazi general and said, "Well, congratulations. We couldn't have done it." And it sort of epitomized this attitude that he had towards the Nazis. He even defied an order from Eisenhower at one point, General Eisenhower, and maintained the Nazis as supervisors in the DP camps, because he saw them as the most competent group that the Allieds had. So, I think you need to understand how horrific the conditions were for the survivors to understand how it was that so many Nazis made it into the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the—
ERIC LICHTBLAU: I think there was—yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —the V-2 factories, just to explain the significance of what happened—
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —in these rocket factories.
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure. These rocket factories were basically torture chambers. These were places where 10,000 prisoners—not most of them Jews, but most of them POWs from France, Poland, Russia and elsewhere—were building on an assembly line—an assembly line of death, basically—hundreds of rockets each month for Hitler. And if they did not meet their quotas, if they did not work up to standards, if they were suspected of sabotaging the rockets, as some tried to do, they were hanged from a giant crane, and all the other prisoners would be gathered around to watch them. And those who weren't intentionally killed, thousands of them died just from disease and malnutrition and exhaustion, kept in these horrible, horrible conditions literally inside a mountain in Nordhausen, where the factory was held.
So, this was the production facility that Dornberger and Wernher von Braun, who went on to become even more famous, ran. And there was a guy who—physically at the mountain factory, named Arthur Rudolph, who was the production head at the Mittelwerk Nordhausen plant, he came to the United States, along with Wernher von Braun and Dornberger and the others, and Rudolph became almost as famous, as one of the geniuses behind the Saturn space program. And their Nazi legacies were basically erased.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Eric, the government files and records that tell this story were kept, obviously, from the public for decades. Could you talk about the importance of those files finally being released to be able to put together this story?
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure, sure. Well, the CIA, especially, and other intelligence agencies really went to enormous lengths to conceal their ties to the Nazis. They had had all these relationships, beginning immediately after the war through the '50s, the '60, in some cases even the '70s, with Nazi spies and informants and scientists. And they went to great lengths to cleanse the records of a lot of the Nazis who came to the United States, removing material that showed their links to Nazi atrocities. Now, I found cases even in the 1990s, believe it or not, where you had the CIA actively intervening in investigations. By the 1980s and 1990s, the Justice Department was going after a number of these guys, was trying to deport them, for their involvement in war crimes, belatedly, I think.
And the CIA—in the case of a Lithuanian security chief who was involved in the massacre of about 60,000 Jews, the CIA tried to kill that investigation in 1994 and '95. And they told Congress, yes, this guy was a CIA spy for us, this former Nazi collaborator, but we knew nothing of his wartime activities, is what they said. And, in fact, in their own files, in their own postwar files, it showed that they knew that this Lithuanian was under—quote, "under the control of the Gestapo and was probably involved in the murder of Jews in Vilnius." So, this was—again, this is not the 1950s we're talking about; this is the 1990s, where people at the CIA were actively trying to conceal their ties.
And some of these documents, as you suggested, only became available beginning in the 1990s, the late 1990s, when Congress ordered the declassification of war crime files. The CIA really resisted that at first. It took years for the historians to get at the war crime files. But beginning in around 2003, 2004, a lot of these files became declassified, and they really painted a pretty troubling picture.
AMY GOODMAN: But even the piece that started you on this journey, Eric Lichtblau, in 2010 was about a report coming out that had been censored right until most recently.
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain why right through until these last few years the U.S. has refused to give this out? And the man who had campaigned to his death bed to have it released—it was a CIA report?
ERIC LICHTBLAU: True. No, it was a Justice Department report. But as you say, it was kept under wraps for about five years. It was written in the mid-2000s. And I first got onto this, and really what started the book was that I got a tip that there was this exhaustive internal report at the Justice Department that looked at the efforts to go after the Nazis, and the Justice Department was sitting on the report. They had refused to release this publicly for very mysterious reasons. And I was able to get a hold of it and did a story on that. And I think even before I finished writing the story, I thought, you know, the material was so rich and so troubling that I wanted to try and do a book on it, because it really—it exposed both the successes of prosecutors in later years in going after these guys, but also really the just perverse relationships that the government had with a lot of these guys going back to the 1950s and 1960s. And that was something that the Justice Department did not want out there publicly.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the anti-Semitism also of President Truman and then this issue of the scientists? What, 1,600 scientists were brought into the United States, many others, but at the same time, how many Jews were held in these camps, millions of them, not allowed to come into the United States? This is after the war.
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Right, right. You know, I think the anti-Semitism really did play a part in the immigration policies after the war, which had the dual effect of both keeping out Jews—I mean, there were documents that I looked at from Senate immigration lawyers who actively said they didn't—they thought Jews were lazy and not hard-working enough and didn't belong in America. And so, it was very difficult. Only a few thousand Jews got into the United States in the immediate aftermath of the war.
And you had something like 400,000 Eastern Europeans who, because of the, quote, "immigration quotas," were allowed in in those years from places like Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia and Ukraine. And many of those, probably the vast majority of those 400,000, were in fact legitimate war refugees. These were people who were victims of Nazi occupation and were about to be taken over by the Soviet Union and were exiles. They really were. But among those 400,000 were many, many, probably several thousand or more, Nazi collaborators, and they came in with the group as—disguised basically as refugees and POWs. I mean, these were people who ran, for instance, a Nazi concentration camp in Estonia. There was—the head of that camp lived on Long Island for about 30 years. There were people who were prison camp guards. There were people who were the heads of Nazi security forces all throughout Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. And it was very easy for them to basically fade into the larger group of war refugees and become Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Eric Lichtblau, we want to thank you very much for being with us
ERIC LICHTBLAU: Thank you. Appreciate your interest.
AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. The new book, out this week, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men. You can read the prologue at democracynow.org. Thanks so much.
This isn't Torii Hunter's first controversial remark about gays.
Major League Baseball outfielder Torii Hunter, a five-time All Star who played for the Detroit Tigers this year, invoked the name of Martin Luther King Jr. in a recent political advertisement against gay marriage.
Hunter, an Arkansas native, recorded a radio ad for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in which he said:
"Dr. King said that men should be judged by the content of their character. Today, we too often prejudge political candidates by their party label. I'm asking you to consider Asa for his actions.
"As a lawyer, Asa fought for more majority African-American districts in the state's legislature. Asa is committed to the principles we hold dear, like a strong faith in God, equal justice for all and keeping marriage between one man and one woman."
This is not the first time Hunter has declared his discomfort with homosexuality. While playing for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012, Hunter told the Los Angeles Times that having a homosexual teammate would be a problem for him:
"For me, as a Christian...I will be uncomfortable because, in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it's not right, " said Hunter. "It will be difficult and uncomfortable."
To deflect public criticism over his remarks, Hunter later took to social media to lament that he had been misquoted:
"I'm very disappointed in Kevin Baxter's article in which my quotes and feelings have been misrepresented. He took two completely separate quotes and made them into one quote that does not express how I feel as a Christian or a human being. I have love and respect for all human beings regardless of race, color or sexual orientation. I am not perfect and try hard to live the best life I can and treat all people with respect. If you know me you know that I am not anti anything and to be portrayed as anti-gay in this article is hurtful and just not true."
Hunter’s new audio testimonial for Hutchinson also seems to fly in the face of recent history, in addition to once again drawing attention to his homophobia. As Deadspin points out, Hunter’s claim that Hutchinson "fought for more majority African-American districts in the state legislature" is also up for debate. Blogger Kevin Draper cites an article in the Arkansas Times that says Hutchinson actually worked to gerrymander districts in the state based on race:
"Asa Hutchinson, the Republican, who once engineered a black-packing congressional redistricting plan as Arkansas Republican chair to diminish the influence of black voters in all but one Delta district (he was in league with a Democratic black legislator who later went to prison)."
Hunter, who is arguably a future Hall of Famer, has also made disparaging remarks about dark-skinned Latino baseball players. In a 2010 interview with USA Today he referred to them as “imposters” while discussing the evolving demographics of professional baseball.
"People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they're African American. They're not us. They're imposters," Hunter told reporter Bob Nightengale. He then continued to insult Latino players by saying, "As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us...It's like, 'Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?'"
In July, Major League Baseball opened its arms to the LGBT community, hiring former utility outfielder Billy Bean, an openly gay former player, as the league’s “Ambassador of Inclusion.” Bean (not to be confused with Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, his former teammate) made his homosexuality public in 1999. He will work with major league and minor league clubs to encourage equal-opportunity workplaces and to develop educational training against sexism, homophobia and prejudice.
Hunter is a star nearing the end of long, sucessful career. He has played in Major League Baseball for 18 years, and was a team leader on the Minnesota Twins, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Detroit Tigers. For now, there is no word whether Major League Baseball will respond to Hunter’s remarks.
Listen to Hunter’s most recent remarks in this YouTube video:
h/t: Deadspin, Detroit Free Press
You Probably Haven't Heard of These Serial Killer Victims -- It's Probably Because They Are Not White
The media continue to ignore black victims.
Afrikka Hardy’s life probably wouldn’t have made national news if her suspected killer had not gone to police and allegedly confessed.
The 19-year-old’s story was overshadowed by his. It’s common with many female victims of color. Class can be a factor too.
Police say Darren Vann is responsible for six other killings in the Hammond, Ind., area. Relatives of two African-American female victims say they reported their loved ones missing. However, their disappearances never gained national prominence like that of Hannah Graham.
As expected, the national media reported ad nauseam about Graham, an 18-year-old University of Virginia student whose remains were identified on Saturday after an aggressive police search. This coverage likely created more pressure to find her body.
What will it take for African-American female crime victims to get the national news coverage they deserve? Perhaps more African-American women journalism managers are needed.
Every day, news editors make decisions about whose lives warrant attention. At the national level at least, it seems young white women’s lives are more important than everyone else’s.
In true Fannie Lou Hamer style, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
This disparate treatment – missing white woman syndrome – must cease. National news decision makers need to be more deliberate about bringing racial, gender and socioeconomic equity to their coverage of missing persons.
Media attention can produce legitimate leads to find missing people. The more publicity a case generates, the harder police and community volunteers work to find the perpetrator. The more intense the search, the more news media gatekeepers pay attention. The two feed off of each other.
My research shows black women television news managers use their influence to raise the importance of black women’s lives. One study participant told me she aired a story about a young African-American teenager whose family had reported her missing to police even though her white male colleague tried to dissuade her, saying the teen was “probably a runaway.”
Black women journalists have a history of giving attention to their own when no one else will.
In 1892, publisher Ida B. Wells was among the first to write about black women being raped by white men. Reporter Marvel Cooke worked undercover in the 1950s to report on the economic and sexual exploitation of black women domestics. Former WMAQ-TV investigative reporter Renee Ferguson won the Alfred I. du Pont award for her 1998 report on black women who were disproportionately profiled at O’Hare airport as suspected drug couriers.
This under appreciation for black women as victims extends to those doing the reporting as well. The situation became so egregious for one African-American woman journalist that she quit and recently went public with her newsroom experiences. According to Alexa Harris, Ph.D., and co-author of "Black Women and Popular Culture: The Conversation Continues," black women are using the Internet to create more accurate images of themselves. She says even black celebrity gossipWeb sites now post stories of black women who go missing.
Harris says even when stories about missing women of color make the news they are often framed more negatively as if the women are complicit in their victimization. Police have released information about Afrikka Hardy that implied she was a prostitute. Hannah Graham, on the other hand, was portrayed as an innocent victim even though initial eyewitness reports implied that she might have been intoxicated although she was underage.
Whatever activity either woman was engaged in before she was killed, neither deserved to die and both have relatives who loved and cared for them. I’d like to think news managers of any race, gender or socioeconomic background could grasp these parallels. But I am not convinced.
So rather than just being sick and tired, I plan to re-double my efforts with my students by emphasizing this disparity. Regardless of their backgrounds, future journalists must know this history and be bold enough to change it. Biases based on race, gender or class have no place in balanced journalism.
Until more inclusive thinking reigns at the top, we will have to depend more on the black women who are news gatekeepers to use their power for fairer coverage. I know it is an extra burden because I feel it, too. After all, I am writing this piece because an African-American woman asked me. Until others can see the inequality of being invisible, the burden is ours to bear.Related Stories
The front page of the New York Times dwells on how Democrats are playing on "racial fears" in campaign advertising. But are the ads actually unfair--or do they simply talk about issues the corporate media would rather not discuss?
See parts one and two of our interview Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau on his new book, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men. Read the prologue below.
Excerpted from THE NAZIS NEXT DOOR: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men by Eric Lichtblau. Copyright © 2014 by Eric Lichtblau. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.THE NAZIS NEXT DOOR
How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men
By Eric Lichtblau
A Name from the Past
July 12, 1974
The old man sounded panicked. He was normally so cocksure and crafty, but now, as he related the strange events of the last few weeks, there was the squall of desperation in a voice left raspy by too many Marlboros. He was in trouble, Tom Soobzokov was telling his long-ago friend John Grunz on the other end of the phone line. Exactly why was still not clear; the words were tumbling out so furiously in Soobzokov’s thick Slavic accent that Grunz could scarcely follow his helter-skelter story.
Crazy refugees from the old country were out to destroy him, the old man was saying. There was something about libelous stories in the newspaper. A hell-bent congresswoman was somehow involved, too. And did Grunz hear his old friend Tom right? Did he just say something about Nazi war crimes?
Slow down, slow down, Grunz urged. Whatever’s going on, he said, we can deal with it. The assurances did nothing to calm Soobzokov.
You don’t understand. My life is in danger.
Typical Soobzokov. He inevitably seemed to cloak himself in some bit of drama or other; there was always that element of intrigue. He was, as his secret psychological workups had concluded years earlier, a bold and impassioned man, “a leader type who can get things done,” but volatile and scheming, too; “a skillful manipulator of people.” His outsize, fill-up-the-room personality had defined him for as long as Grunz had known him. But had his old friend, still rambling on the phone about Nazis and government probes, now turned delusional, too?
The two men, their lives once so tightly intertwined, had lost touch in recent years. Then came the cryptic message that an intermediary had passed along to Grunz just a few days earlier: someone named Soobzokov was looking for him. He wanted him to call as soon as possible. It sounded urgent.
Tom Soobzokov? Looking for him? It had been many years — fifteen, maybe twenty — since they had last spoken. What could he want after all this time?
Soobzokov, nothing if not resourceful, had gotten a friend in Congress to find Grunz’s unlisted line and get the message to him. That wasn’t as simple as it sounded, since Grunz had a way of making himself hard to find. He was, after all, a CIA spy.
Soobzokov knew a bit about spying, too. That was how he knew Grunz. Soobzokov had once been a spy himself for the CIA — not a particularly good one, but a spy nonetheless. Grunz had been his handler in the Middle East two decades earlier as they chased intelligence on the Soviets in the crazy Cold War days of the 1950s. Soobzokov’s main mission was to recruit Russian émigrés and fervent anti-Communists — people like him — who might be willing to spy on their former homeland for America. He was always on the verge of turning the next big Russian agent, or so he claimed. It was in the Middle East that Soobzokov had picked up his CIA code name: Nostril, an unflattering allusion to his prominent hooked nose. If he minded the moniker, he never let on. He loved the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of the spy business. He also liked to brandish his agency credentials to friends and acquaintances, with a reckless bravado — not a good quality in a spy. As his handler, Grunz was sometimes forced to clean up the mess left by Nostril’s indiscretions in far-flung places.
Now, so many years later, a frantic Soobzokov had put out word — through a congressman, no less — that he was looking for Grunz. No, don’t give him my phone number, Grunz told the congressman’s office. I’ll contact him.
Whatever was going on, Grunz figured it couldn’t be good.
He picked up the phone and dialed a 201 area code: northern New Jersey, where, if he recalled right, Soobzokov had settled when he emigrated from Europe after World War II among a mass of war-torn refugees.
Pleasantries were few, despite their long estrangement. Soobzokov needed help, and he needed it now, he told Grunz. His life — the American life he had cultivated so assiduously for himself, his wife, and his five children in the hardscrabble town of Paterson, New Jersey — was collapsing around him. Amid the flurry of wild-sounding events, Grunz was finally able to parse out enough of the details to fully appreciate his panic.
Maybe he wasn’t so delusional, after all. People really were after him.
It had started with the whispers. For years, a bunch of Soobzokov’s fellow immigrants who, like him, hailed from Russia’s rugged western borderland in the North Caucasus, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, had been spreading malicious talk about him, he said. He practically spat the words. They were obviously jealous of him — jealous of the political connections he’d built among state Democrats; jealous of the plum county job he’d landed; jealous of the reputation he’d earned in the immigrant community as a leader and fixer, a man who could make problems go away. When he walked into a room, people stood up out of respect. He was a man of stature, a man of influence, and his rivals in New Jersey obviously resented him for it.
Now their envy had turned truly vile. The outrageous things they were saying about him! That back in the old country, he had become the Germans’ henchman in his village after Hitler’s 1942 invasion. That he had turned on his own people. That he had worn the reviled Waffen SS uniform. That he had led roaming Third Reich “execution squads” that gunned down Jews and Communists.
That he was, in short, a Nazi.
Content moderators are responsible for removing offensive material from our social media feeds. But who is looking out for them?
When you scroll through Facebook or Twitter, you expect to see photos of friends’ recent vacations, well-wishing birthday posts and Buzzfeed articles about porcupines eating pumpkins. What you don’t expect are graphic images of child pornography or videos of people having their heads cut off. Though many of us don't know it, a vast labor force of content moderators, largely based overseas, works day and night to keep our social media feeds free of this sort of offensive material.
In an investigation for Wired, Adrian Chen travels to the Philippines to get the behind-the-scenes stories of the men and women responsible for sanitizing the experience of American Internet users. As Chen learns, there are well over 100,000 of these laborers, many of whom work in rundown urban areas outside of Manila. Their wages range from $300-$500 per month, and the work they do is draining. Moderators sit in front of computer monitors for hours at a time, sifting through a constantly updated stream of content that has been flagged as inappropriate: sexual solicitations, dick pics, savage street fights, suicide bombings. They repeat this cycle day in and day out, struggling to keep up with the oppressive volume of offensive content that never stops accumulating.
Needless to say, being exposed to the dark underbelly of humanity for eight hours each day takes a toll. The contractors Chen interviews describe struggling with insomnia, substance abuse, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Though some companies offer free counseling to their workers, many do not, and moderators are left to heal their psychological wounds on their own. A woman named Maria, who works as a quality assurance representative for a contracting firm, told Chen about her coping strategies.
“I get really affected by bestiality with children,” she says. “I have to stop. I have to stop for a moment and loosen up, maybe go to Starbucks and have a coffee.” She laughs at the absurd juxtaposition of a horrific sex crime and an overpriced latte.
Though the bulk of this labor is outsourced overseas, the more specialized content screening is done here in the U.S., mostly by recent college graduates who are between permanent gigs. As Chen points out, U.S.-based moderators earn much more than those in other countries, and “a brand-new American moderator for a large tech company in the US can make more in an hour than a veteran Filipino moderator makes in a day.” But the psychological damage is the same, and the young grads screening videos for Bay Area startups are just as haunted by the images scrolling across their screens.
Rob, who used to work as a moderator at YouTube, describes the job as an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Those who do it to have to become desensitized to the graphic images they process, so they can’t allow themselves to recognize the emotional and psychological burden they are carrying with them. Rob gained weight and turned to alcohol as a release. As he put it:
“If someone was uploading animal abuse, a lot of the time it was the person who did it. He was proud of that. And seeing it from the eyes of someone who was proud to do the fucked-up thing, rather than news reporting on the fucked-up thing—it just hurts you so much harder, for some reason. It just gives you a much darker view of humanity.”
The removal of offensive content is one way our Internet experience is curated and polished without our knowledge. Another is the monitoring of the thousands of comments users post on social media networks and online publications. Anyone who has spent any time poking around the comments section on CNN or Reddit—or AlterNet, for that matter—knows that they are often cesspools of racism, bigotry, sexism and name-calling. But while we can close our laptops in disgust, comment moderators, like content moderators, must absorb the brunt force of the burbling mass of hatred and raw human id that is the Internet.
As recent articles in the New Inquiry and Jacobin noted, the bulk of comment moderation is done by young, poorly compensated women. They are, as the Jacobin piece phrased it, “the human buffers between an outraged public and the publication itself.” Even higher-ups within a publication are rarely aware of what gets said in the comments section; only the female college grads scrubbing the threads bear witness to all of the vitriol directed at the writers, the other commenters, and often the publication itself. In the New Inquiry piece, Jason Wilson argues that “this systemic resilience relies on a precariously employed and female labor force. We must understand how they are deputized to shore up the legitimacy of institutions which have historically excluded and currently exploit them, freeing the powerful to present all of this as a democratic undertaking.”
The same case can be made for the content moderators staring at computer screens in dingy offices thousands of miles across the ocean. Because online companies rely on an invisible, silent, underpaid labor force to do the dirty work of damage control, it is too easy to forget that these gatekeepers exist. Sarah Roberts, a media studies scholar at the University of Western Ontario, tells Adrian Chen that companies and social media users alike would prefer to pretend that they do not. As she says, “It goes to our misunderstandings about the Internet and our view of technology as being somehow magically not human.” Rob, Maria, and the thousands of other moderators around the globe are living proof that it is.Related Stories
Kaci Hickox, the nurse who bravely treated dying Africans, is being treated as a menace. Kaci Hickox, the nurse who volunteered to treat Ebola patients in Africa with Doctors Without Borders, and returned last week, not to grateful thanks for fighting the epidemic there to keep it from coming here, but to involuntary quarantine in a tent without a flushing toilet or shower in New Jersey, is back home in Maine and taking on Gov. Paul LePage with what Fox News clearly believes is a homicidal bicycle ride.
Yes, Hickox has gone for a bike ride with her boyfriend, and the media has gone wild. As has LePage.Kaci Hickox and her boyfriend stepped out of their home Thursday morning and rode away on mountain bikes, followed by state police cruiser.
Police were monitoring her movements and public interactions but couldn't detain her without a court order signed by a judge.
Hickox contends there's no need for quarantine because she's showing no symptoms. She's also tested negative for the deadly disease. […]
But Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who canceled campaign events to keep tabs on the situation, maintained that the state must be "vigilant" to protect others.
And state officials will go to court to try to get an order to detain Hickox, according to the AP report. Of course they are, because LePage clearly thinks this issue is the most important thing happening in his state right now. However, they might have a harder time convincing a judge of that, says attorney and health law expert said attorney Jackie L. Caynon III: "If somebody isn't showing signs of the infection, then it's kind of hard to say someone should be under mandatory quarantine." Which is Hickox's point entirely.
Keep in mind that only one Ebola patient in the United States has died, because he was initially incorrectly diagnosed. That's a 90 percent survival rate in what is a very small sample. Because when treated quickly and appropriately, Ebola doesn't seem to spread. Keep in mind that even the family of that victim, Thomas Duncan, who lived with him while he was sick, have all remained healthy. None contracted the disease. Nor did the families of the first two doctors to be treated in the US, both of whom are now perfectly healthy. So far no one close to the two nurses who contracted it from the very sick Duncan has become ill.
Also keep in mind that Hickox has every intention of staying alive. She's witnessed Ebola at its worst, and you can bet she doesn't want to get sick with it, or to transmit it to anyone else. You can also bet she's taking her temperature regularly to make sure she gets immediate treatment if she doesn't remain healthy. Which she is right now—healthy. Not sick. Not contagious. Because as all the experts know and have been telling us over and over and over again, someone with Ebola is not contagious until they are actually sick.
But that's just logic and scientific and medical expertise. LePage sure as hell doesn't have time for all that. Not when he might be able to pick up a few votes from the easily terrified crowd. You know, Fox News viewers.
By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan
There is a database housed in Arkansas with your name in it ... that is, if you live in one of the 28 states participating in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. It’s one of the growing components of an aggressive drive across the U.S. by Republicans to stop many Americans from voting.
Early voting has already begun in many states in the 2014 U.S. midterm elections. Control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance, as do many crucial governorships, congressional races and ballot initiatives. One question looming over this election is just how significant will be the impact of the wholesale, organized disenfranchisement of eligible voters.
I spoke with Dolores Internicola in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ground zero for the voter-purge efforts of embattled Republican Gov. Rick Scott. She lost her husband, Bill, recently. He was in the news in 2012, when, at the age of 91, Bill received an official notice in the mail that his citizenship was in question, and he would have to prove it or be kicked off the voter rolls. As a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the native New Yorker was upset to hear that he couldn’t participate in the vote that he helped defend against Nazi Germany. “It was terrible,” his widow recalled. Bill did get to vote in the 2012 elections, but millions are now threatened with similar, arbitrary disenfranchisement this year."
Investigative journalist Greg Palast, along with documentary filmmaker Richard Rowley, crisscrossed the country, documenting the impact of the Crosscheck Program. His critical investigative reporting of the now-legendary electoral debacle in Florida in 2000 helped expose how Florida’s then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris oversaw massive, erroneous voter purges there, giving the presidency to George W. Bush in what remains the most controversial presidential election in U.S. history.
“Now, it’s a decade and a half later, and I’m hearing the cry of ‘voter fraud. There’s a million people committing voter fraud.’ Is there really this big crime wave?” Palast asks in his two-part special on alleged “double voting” produced for Al Jazeera America.
Click here to read the full column posted at Truthdig.
Listen to and share Amy Goodman's podcast on SoundCloud.
October 30, 2014
“Comcast Attacks!” Ad Highlights How the Cable Monster’s Merger With Time Warner Cable Will Hurt Consumers
Merger Would Allow Comcast to Dominate the Market, Leading to Higher Prices, Fewer Choices And Worse Customer Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new Halloween-themed ad appearing in Communications Daily today by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, features Comcast as a Godzilla-like cable monster that will stomp on consumers if its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable isn’t stopped by federal regulators.
The ad has the look of a 1950s-style monster movie poster and warns that the merger will give Comcast control over nearly half of the truly high speed broadband market and almost 60 percent of the cable TV market. That will lead to high prices, fewer choices, and even worse customer service for consumers, according to Consumers Union.
“Our ad offers a tongue-in cheek take on the merger, but consumers have reason to be scared if this deal isn’t stopped by federal regulators,” said Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Comcast has already devoured a huge share of the cable TV and broadband markets plus NBC Universal, but now it wants even more power. If this mega merger is allowed, consumers can expect to pay more, have fewer choices, and be stuck with the same lousy customer service these companies are notorious for delivering.”
Consumers Union has urged federal regulators to block the merger. In filings made with the FCC and Justice Department, the group has detailed how the merger would give Comcast enormous power to raise prices, limit choices, and stifle competition. Consumers Union and other critics of the merger have warned that Comcast would become, in effect, a national gatekeeper for the Internet. This is particularly troubling at a time when the FCC is considering new net neutrality rules that would allow companies like Comcast to play favorites among web sites and services, and to control the quality, speed, and availability of programming that reaches consumers.
When pundits talk about what 'the public' thinks in an election season, remember that they're not really talking about the whole public.
AccuWeather's weather model questioned.
Last year, conservatives led by Rush Limbaugh called the Polar Vortex — the large-scale Arctic-air cyclone that dipped deep into American skies last year — nothing more than a “hoax” and a “left-wing media conspiracy.” Limbaugh insisted it was created for the sole purpose of frighting people into believing in climate change. Meteorologists and other scientists retaliated, insisting the phenomenon was, indeed, real. NBC weatherman Al Roker got the last word in this public spat when he posted a page from a 1959 college textbook on Twitter that contained the term and its definition. Limbaugh was uncharacteristically silenced.
This year, however, the debate isn’t about the vortex’s existence, it’s between the two commercial forecasting networks, AccuWeather and the Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. The commercial forecasters are telling us to brace for the return of the Arctic air in the U.S. while the federal forecasters have countered by saying another wavy vortex dipping far south is “unlikely.”
Some climate scientists we talked to said they're particularly curious about AccuWeather's methodology, considering that it's quite a daring prediction. And while meteorologist Eric Holthaus, writing for Slate, points out that AccuWeather (along with the Weather Channel) does not make its verification data available for review, he assures us that, “these folks are not the Farmer’s Almanac. There’s some science at work here.”
So, is AccuWeather the Fox News of meteorology or not? It has recently drawn fire for other ambitious long-term forecasts, with some critics calling them notably inaccurate. Last year, meteorologist Jason Samenow, the weather editor for the Washington Post, called AccuWeather's new 45-day forecasts "a joke" and "not rooted in science." He says AccuWeather "is simply peddling a useless product to people who don’t know better."
Earlier this month, AccuWeather released an audacious long-term forecast, covering the meteorological winter (December through February) in the U.S. With some certainty, it wrote:
Cold air will surge into the Northeast in late November, but the brunt of the season will hold off until January and February. The polar vortex, the culprit responsible for several days of below-zero temperatures last year, will slip down into the region from time to time, delivering blasts of arctic air.
AccuWeather also sees higher than usual snow accumulation, especially for the Northeast, and cold temperatures, ice and a few wintry blasts for the South. However, its long-range forecaster, Paul Pastelok, assures us that “it’s not going to be the same type of situation as we saw last year, not as persistent.”
Compared to AccuWeather, the Weather Channel's forecasts are a bit more conservative. The Atlanta-based company typically only issues regional temperature outlooks, instead of focusing on precipitation and weather patterns like its competitor. The Weather Channel's winter forecast is guessing that the winter's chill will be more focused on the Northeast. The meteorological media network cites research that links the size of Siberian snowpacks in October to with frigid conditions impacting the U.S. in the winter. Theoretically, when the Siberian snow advances rapidly, it favors a negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation, which is often associated with colder than average weather in the Eastern U.S. Notably, points out the Weather Channel, the snowpack in Siberia is accumulating greater than it was last year at this time.
Capping off this month’s string of predictions, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center countered with its own forecast, saying its probable that the upcoming winter months will not be nearly as cold and unpleasant as last year, and persistent, large-scale atmospheric climate patterns are “really unlikely to form.” They’re calling for a weak El Niño to form toward the end of 2014, which makes incursions of cold Arctic air less likely. But as usual, the federal weather service is non-committal when it comes to winter weather in the Northeast, only indicating that there will likely be more precipitation than usual. Overall, it will be a pretty average winter without a lot of extreme conditions, says Mike Halpert, the acting director of the Climate Prediction Center.
Halpert says drawing a link between the Siberian snowpack and harsh winter weather in the U.S. is a compelling theory, but it's still relatively new. NOAA would need to see more years of data to determine if it's an accurate forecasting tool.
So, which forecast should we believe?
“The NOAA forecast is truer to the science in that it is stated in terms of probabilities, and does not express a high degree of confidence in any one outcome,” says Prof. Adam Sobel, of Columbia University’s Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. “That doesn't mean it won't be a cold winter, as AccuWeather says; it might be. It just means there is no way of being anywhere near as certain as their forecast implies.”
Sobel, the author of Storm Surge, a book about Hurricane Sandy and its relation to climate change, wonders if AccuWeather is taking its cue from the way daily weather forecasts are reported. He says that those, too, should be stated in terms of probabilities, but consumers seem more comfortable with deterministic forecasts where temperatures, precipitation amounts, wind speed and other measurements are predicted. So, this may be why AccuWeather and other weather news outlets choose to provide deterministic seasonal forecasts.
“I think that is unwise, given the low skill of seasonal forecasts in particular,” says Sobel. “It gives the public the wrong idea about the nature of the information they are being given. I believe most people are capable of understanding basic probabilities, and would be better served by forecasts stated in those terms.”
Sobel says that AccuWeather undoubtedly has access to most or all the same information as NOAA, but may be interpreting it differently.
“But I think it would be misleading to focus on this difference,” he says. “The more important point is that both forecasts are uncertain, and should rightly be expressed in terms of slight changes in the probabilities. NOAA does express it this way, while AccuWeather doesn't.”
It should also be noted that the three seasonal forecasts aren’t so much forecasts as they are meteorological odds-making, and betting on weather on in some regions can be a high-stakes game.
“Seasonal forecasts such as these have only a modest amount of skill, even in the parts of the world where they are the best. That means if you bet on them every season for many years, you would make money in the net, but not a lot. Further, the eastern U.S. is an area where the forecasts are particularly unskillful,” says Sobel. “So a confident forecast that a cold winter — or a warm one — will occur, with no statement of uncertainty or probabilities, such as AccuWeather's, gives an exaggerated and misleading impression of the degree of certainty that is possible.”
Sobel notes that the weather in the U.S. Southwest is much easier to predict as it is more strongly influenced by El Niño events in the equatorial Pacific.
For those demanding more rigorous science behind long-term forecasts, NOAA says better seasonal predictions are coming. Halpert says that such forecasting is gradually improving due to the increased quality and quantity of data, more advanced technology and an improvement in forecasting models.
“In some ways, the improvement over time will be analogous to the improvement in weather forecasts, though at a slower pace,” says Halpert. “In the case of numerical weather prediction, at least some of the advance was due to increases in computer technology alone. In climate prediction, the science itself has to come along in addition to better computing resources.”
Sobel says that despite the headlines, it’s doubtful we will be seeing a winter as cold as last winter was in the eastern U.S.
“Last winter was very extreme by historical standards, so it is improbable in any year,” says Sobel. “No information currently available (including the state of El Niño), or that will be available ahead of time, is strong enough to change that. It's not impossible that this winter will be as cold or colder than last, it's just very unlikely.”Related Stories
NEW YORK — The fight to save Net Neutrality and stop the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger came to Brooklyn on Monday night as an enthusiastic crowd of New Yorkers testified before five empty chairs, each representing one of the five FCC commissioners who either declined or failed to respond to the event organizers’ invitations to attend the public hearing in person.
The event, held at the Brooklyn Public Library, was attended by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New York City Mayoral Counsel Maya Wiley, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and more than 125 people from the region. Testimony from the audience was recorded for submission to the FCC. The hearing occurred against the backdrop of two pending FCC decisions that could harm the open Internet.
Since the FCC’s open Internet proceeding began earlier this year, a record-breaking 3.7 million Americans have submitted comments to the agency. Nearly all commenters to the FCC have urged the agency to use its congressionally granted authority to protect Internet users’ rights and prevent a few powerful phone and cable companies from controlling the future of communications. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of Americans have signed petitions and submitted comments to the FCC urging it to reject the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.
Thousands of people have urged the FCC to get out of Washington, D.C., and hold public hearings on Net Neutrality and the Comcast merger, but Chairman Tom Wheeler has ignored this call. Common Cause, Consumers Union, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Free Press and the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) hosted the Brooklyn hearing to give New Yorkers the chance to speak out.
Following are some of the many comments made at Monday night’s hearing:
“This is a real inflection point for us as a society and for those five folks there,” said former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps as he gestured to the five empty seats representing the five absent commissioners. “The decisions they’re going to make between now and the end of the year are probably the most important that the FCC is going to make in a generation. … The FCC has the obligation not to vote until they get out of the Beltway and listen to the people who have to live with the results of their decisions.”
“While Tom Wheeler’s FCC is debating behind closed doors whether or not to allow Internet companies to discriminate online, more than 3 million people, from lawyers to laymen, already agree that the answer should be no,” said Malkia Cyril of MAG-Net. “Telecom corporations and their partners argue that some discrimination for profit is OK, necessary even. The Media Action Grassroots Network has more than 175 organizational members nationwide that know firsthand that discrimination is never OK — not in our police departments or on our Internet. The future of our nation can’t afford more discrimination, online or off.”
“Lose Net Neutrality and these big phone and cable companies are going to be given a license to discriminate,” said Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. “FCC commissioners spend far too much time inside corporate boardrooms and not enough time in rooms like this one. It’s been more than five years since all five FCC commissioners appeared outside Washington together at a hearing with an open microphone. We invited them all tonight … we’re still waiting.”
“We need the FCC to adopt strong Net Neutrality rules,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “The alternative, where the FCC is powerless to regulate the largest telecom monopoly in the world, would be much worse.”
“To allow the large telecommunications companies to have a fast lane for those who pay for it and [relegate] everyone else to a slow lane is absolutely not Net Neutrality despite what they may try to call it,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler. “It’s wrong and we cannot let it happen. … We must fight on until the FCC reclassifies Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II.”
“I’m living proof that when you have an open network that empowers the least among us to become creators — just as much as the rich and powerful — we are literally saving lives,” said 18 Million Rising Technical Director Cayden Mak. “It’s not just base survival; it’s a chance to thrive.”
“An open Internet is critical to our communities’ ability to effectively organize for racial and social justice,” saidColorOfChange Communications Manager Dallas Donnell. “Some say Title II is too extreme and a pay-to-play corporatized Internet is the way to go. They say if we give more power and control to corporations, it will benefit people of color. We disagree.”
“I support a free and unregulated and untethered Internet — free of interference from both Big Brother and Big Business,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. “It’s important that you’ve come out and that you continue to speak up on this issue, because your voices will be heard. … Congress takes note that the American people stood up and expressed yourself in such a powerful way to the FCC.”
“We’re here because we want to live in a world where businesses succeed or fail based on the value of their products and not the depths of their pockets,” said Etsy Policy Director Althea Erickson. “And that’s why we’re urging the FCC to reclassify broadband access under Title II.”
“The FCC’s upcoming votes on Net Neutrality and the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger will have a profound impact on the future of the Internet,” said Consumers Union Policy Counsel Delara Derakhshani. “Chairman Wheeler and the rest of the FCC commissioners need to get out of Washington to hear from everyday Americans who will have to live with the decisions they are about to make. The FCC’s votes on these two issues will have a huge impact on what we all see online, how fast we see it and how much we’ll pay.”
“The battle over the Internet and Title II reclassification is one of the most important racial and economic justice issues of our time,” said Presente.org Director Mariana Ruiz. “Fast lanes are dangerous because they bake into the Internet a systemic disadvantage for those of us with fewer economic resources. … That’s why paid prioritization is such a loser for everyone except the corporations.”
“We must resist the corporate logic that argues that everything in the public sphere must be for sale,” said Penn State Professor Courtney Desiree Morris. “The Internet is a public good; it belongs to all of us. It’s not for sale, not now, not ever. We say no to corporate immunity and yes to a culture of transparency and accountability.”
“Nobody wants to game in the slow lane,” said Preston Baez, who came to “unofficially” represent gamers and heavy metal fans. “My life has changed with metal music. I now only listen to metal music. And in the past five years a whole new style has been invented using the Internet. That wouldn’t have happened without the Internet. And if you have to pay to upload your music for people to listen to it, that’s just completely restricting artistic freedom in every way.”
The complete video of the event is online at http://new.livestream.com/internetsociety/newyorkspeaks
Contact Info: Michael McCauley, Consumers Union – email@example.com , 415-902-9537 (cell) or Timothy Karr – Free Press, firstname.lastname@example.org, 201-533-8838
The Russian president delivered a conspiratorial, factually challenged rant against the United States, according to the Washington Post. So why can't they point to any evidence?
It's not about ideology.
The Pew Research Center has one of its ginormous studies out today, this one about polarization and media use, and as usual it's full of interesting stuff. I want to make a point about news in general and NPR in particular, and then after that, for those who care about these things, I have a methodological point to make about how we measure ideology.
One of the distinct things about the Pew results is that conservatives love, love, love Fox News, while no single news outlet has the same kind of near-universal use among liberals. Look, for instance at this chart showing which sources each group cites as their main source of news:
But the really interesting difference emerges when they ask which sources people trust:
You'll notice that for the consistent conservatives, trust is basically a function of ideology and partisanship. The only sources that over 50 percent of them trust are Fox and a bunch of conservative radio hosts (and yes, conservatives would argue that that's because all the mainstream sources have a liberal bias). But the consistent liberals, on the other hand, don't just trust the most ideologically liberal sources the most. MSNBC, for instance, has a bare majority of consistent liberals saying they trust it, while their most trusted news source is NPR.
NPR is a number of things—some people might be thinking of "Fresh Air" or "This American Life" when they answer that question. But chances are most are thinking of the two flagship shows, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," which have by far the network's biggest audiences. These shows are among the most assiduously even-handed presentations anywhere in the American media, but there's a reason why they are so appealing to liberals. They may not have aggressively ideological content, but they do reflect a liberal sensibility. They're careful, reasoned, polite, cosmopolitan, serious with the occasional touch of whimsy—in short, everything liberals either are or imagine themselves to be. And everyone at NPR seems so nice—how could you not trust them? So liberals do, and most of them listen.
Now, on to the methodological discussion. You may know that the number of people who call themselves "conservative" in polls usually outnumbers those who call themselves "liberal" by a substantial margin (around 15 percentage points in the latest Gallup polls). Yet we're supposedly a 50-50 nation, so what's going on? Part of it is that Americans are "symbolic conservatives" but "operational liberals," meaning they like things like small government in the abstract, but also like all the things government does in the particular. Part of it is also that conservatives have spent a few decades now working to make "liberal" an epithet, while there was no countervailing effort on the other side. But in any case, when you look at poll results that divide liberals and conservatives, you're looking at two unequal groups, because the people who call themselves liberals are likely to be strong liberals, while those who call themselves conservatives are a group that is larger and probably more ideologically diverse in some ways.
So what Pew does is instead of just asking people what they are, they ask them a series of ten forced-choice questions about government and particular issues ("Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient" vs. "Government often does a better job than people give it credit for," "The best way to ensure peace is through military strength" vs. "Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace," etc.), and using the answers to those questions, they classify them into groups. That gives you a much better sense of what people actually believe, rather than what they think about a pair of ideological labels an alarming number of people have only the dimmest understanding of.
Why don't more pollsters do that? The biggest reason is that ten questions is a huge amount of space on a survey to take up, and it's a lot quicker, easier, and cheaper to just ask one, particularly if you're doing a brief tracking poll. But when Pew does theirs, they get—are you ready—more liberals than conservatives. The spread is as follows: 9 percent consistently conservative, 18 percent mostly conservative, 39 percent mixed, 22 percent mostly liberal, 12 percent consistently liberal. That means a total of 34 percent liberal and 27 percent conservative, with the rest in the middle. In other words, you get about the same number of conservatives this way as you do by just asking what people call themselves, but you get substantially more liberals.
That doesn't necessarily mean that the standard self-identification question is wrong—it does tell you something meaningful. But one should be aware of its limits.Related Stories
READ: “GMO Deception” What You Need to Know about Corporations and Govt. Agencies Putting Us at Risk
As voters in Oregon and Colorado head to the polls next week to decide if they support labeling laws for genetically modified organisms, on Tuesday we will be joined by Sheldon Krimsky to discuss his new book, The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk. The book has a forward by Ralph Nader and is a compilation of thought-provoking essays by leading scientists, science writers and public health advocates who, in their writing, explore the social, environmental and moral consequences of GMOs. You can read the introduction below.
Sheldon Krimsky is professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University as well as an adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health and Family Medicine at the Tufts School of Medicine. Krimsky is also a board member of the Council for Responsible Genetics.
Excerpted with permission from The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber. Copyright 2014, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
Agriculture had its origins about ten thousand years ago. Throughout most of that period farmers shared seeds, selected desired phenotypes of plants, and with keen observation and experience sought to understand the environmental factors affecting crop productivity. Through selective breeding, farmers chose plants that were best adapted to their region. By saving seeds of the more desired varieties they were able to achieve shortened growing seasons, larger fruits or vegetables, enhanced disease resistance and varieties with higher nutritional value. The birth of botany as a discipline can be traced to ancient Greece. Theophrastus of Eresos (371–287 BCE), a student of Aristotle, wrote two botanical treatises summarizing the results of a millennium of experience, observation, and science from Egypt and Mesopotamia.
By the Enlightenment of the seventeenth century, experimental science had emerged. The fields of agronomy and plant breeding developed out of that milieu. In 1865 Gregor Mendel published Experiments on Plant Hybridization. Plant hybridization (or cross breeding) involves crosses between populations, breeds, or cultivars within a single species, incorporating the qualities of two different varieties into a single variety. Thus, the pollen of plants with one desired trait was transferred to a plant variety with other desired traits. This could only be achieved with plant varieties that were closely related.
Hybridization created plants more suitable for the palette of modern humans.
With the discovery in the first half of the twentieth century that radiation and chemicals could create mutations (or changes in the DNA code) in plant cells and germ plasm, plant breeders deliberately induced mutations that they hoped would produce more desirable plant varieties. This was a long, tedious, and unpredictable process. Nevertheless, it is estimated that more than 2,500 new plant varieties were produced using radiation mutagenesis.
Tissue culture engineering was another technique used in plant breeding. Once a desirable plant variety was found, the plant could be cloned by extracting a small piece of the plant tissue and inducing it to grow in cell culture with the appropriate media. Plant cloning from somatic cells was a forerunner to cloning of animals like Dolly the Sheep.
After the discovery of recombinant DNA molecule technology (aka gene transplantation) in the early 1970s, the new field of plant biotechnology was launched less than a decade later. Scientists were now capable of cutting and splicing genes and transferring them from one biological entity to another, thereby crossing broad species barriers. Plant biotechnology made its debut at an international symposium in Miami, Florida, in January 1983.2 Three independent groups of plant geneticists described experiments in which foreign genes were inserted into plants, leading to the creation of normal, fertile, transgenic plants, which means that they contained artificially inserted genes. The first plant used in these experiments was tobacco. And the vehicle for introducing the foreign genes into the plants was a bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefacients (A. tumefaciens).
The recombinant DNA debates had precipitated one of the greatest public science education periods in modern history, occurring at a time when environmental issues were of paramount social importance in the United States. The American consumer had begun to think about the quality, safety, and purity of food, and the organic food movement was underway. National environmental groups petitioned the government to remove dangerous pesticides from farming. In the 1980s when agricultural biotechnology was born, there was already a skepticism building among consumers and food activists that genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) would not contribute to these priorities.
While there have been longstanding controversies between vegetarians and omnivores or organic versus conventional farming, rarely has there been a time when food has divided society into two major warring camps. But that is the situation that people now find themselves throughout the world in response to genetically modified food. One camp proclaims that GMOs represent the future of food. They echo the words of Francis Bacon, the seventeenth-century philosopher and scientist, who more than four hundred years ago in the New Atlantis, prophesied a future of biotechnology:
And we make by art, in the same orchards and gardens, trees and flowers to come earlier or later in their seasons, and to come up and bear more speedily, than by their natural course they do. We make them also by art greater much than their nature; and their fruit greater and sweeter, and of differing tastes, smell, colour, and figure from their nature.
Bacon saw the biotic world around him as providing the feedstock, or starting materials, for recreating plant life on the planet according to human design and utility. In more contemporary terms, the plant germ plasm holds the building blocks for new food crops just as the chemical elements of the Periodic Table were the starting material for synthetic chemistry that has brought us plastics, pesticides, and nanotechnology.
In the view of the modern agricultural Baconians, farms are like factories. Food production must be as efficient as an assembly line. This means that the producers of food must reduce the uncertainty of inputs and speed up food production to cultivate more crops per given acre, per unit of time, per unit of labor, and per unit of resource input. They proclaim the need for higher food productivity to provide for a growing population of more than seven billion people on the planet. The American Council on Science and Health, a GMO-philic organization, believes that skeptics or non-believers are irrational luddites: “It’s truly mind-boggling that this technology, which has already provided so many benefits and will continue to do so, is being demonized to such a great extent. It’s a sad commentary on how susceptible a population deficient in scientific understanding can be to fear mongering activists with a scary agenda.”
The opposing camp is comprised largely of food purists, skeptics of industrial, high chemical input farming, critics of agribusiness, and scientists who are not convinced that genetically modified food is as safe and as ecologically sustainable as its proponents claim it to be. They point out that the altruistic promises of GMO proponents have had no relationship with the actual use of genetic engineering techniques in modern agricultural production. In fact, there have been only two commonly applied major innovations in GMO agriculture: 1) crops resistant to herbicide, and 2) crops that contain their own insecticide. Both methods were designed to find synergies with their corporate sponsor’s existing pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer businesses in order to maximize profits. For example, a farmer who buys Monsanto’s Roundup
GMO skeptics harken back to the transformation of small-scale agriculture, where crop rotation, agro-ecological diversity, family farming, animal husbandry, taste, freshness, and purity were core values. Their perspective on GMOs can best be characterized by use of the acronym GAUF: Genetically Adulterated Unlabeled Food. Consumers, especially those not on the edge of poverty and famine, are asking more from their food than its price, its plentitude, its perfect geometry, its homogenous color, and its shelf life. They are demanding that their food be grown without the use of poisons, that animal protein not be harvested at the expense of the humane treatment of sentient beings, that agricultural practices not destroy the substrate of the natural ecology (the soil), and that modern agriculture not put an end to agrarian life by turning land-based food production into industrially based cell culture and hydroponics. Finally, they believe the entire agricultural system should be sustainable. In the end, they find that the GMO technology has so far only benefited a handful of corporations, that it is expensive, polluting, it may be unsafe for humans, and it is beginning to fail to meet its own instrumental objectives.
The two camps represent opposing world views about the role and structure of agriculture in modern civilization in the post industrial age. When you ask people from the pro-GMO camp what are their core values, they will likely say productivity, profit and safety. They have no intention of producing food that will make people sick as they declare, “We cannot stay in business if our product harms people.”
The GMO-skeptics have a more nuanced view of adverse consequences. Their concerns include whether GMOs will induce subtle changes in long-term health and nutritional quality, increase food allergies, incentivize non-sustainable farming practices, create dependency on chemical inputs, justify a lack of transparency in evaluating food quality and safety, or transform farming practices into a political economy resembling serfdom where the seed is intellectual property leased by the farmer. They also include advocates for a return to conventional methods of food production, which have been marginalized because they don’t offer corporations a higher profit margin. They note, for example, that conventional methods for creating drought resistance in crops actually create higher yields than GE methods.
A 2013 report in the Village Voice summed up the new political economy of GMO agriculture: “Monsanto’s thick contracts dropped like shackles on the kitchen table of every farmer who used the company’s seed, allowing Monsanto access to the farmers’ records and fields and prohibiting them from replanting leftover seed, essentially forcing farmers to buy new seed every year or face up to $3 million in damages.”
As agricultural biotechnology has developed, three methods have been widely used for the introduction of foreign genes into plants: 1) using a bacterium or virus to carry genes into a plant, 2) using electrical shock to get pure DNA into the plant cell’s nucleus, or 3) using microprojectiles coated with DNA.
Why has a new food technology that splices DNA sequences into plant germ plasm with what is widely believed to be more precision than hybridization or mutagenesis created such controversy? The answer can be found in the essays contained in this volume which cover three decades of commentary and precautions regarding GMOs. The controversy over GMOs has divided scientists and food activists, some of whom consider GMOs benign while others believe they can reduce chemical inputs into agriculture and increase yield. The public and scientific criticism and skepticism over GMOs come from many directions. But they are connected by some form of risk evaluation. The following list of questions illustrate the range of concerns:
Are GMOs a health danger to consumers?
The conventional view about GMOs held by the pro-GMO camp is expressed in this statement by Ania Wieczorek and Mark Wright:
All types of agriculture modify the genes of plants so that they will have desirable traits. The difference is that traditional forms of breeding change the plants genetics indirectly by selecting plants with specific traits, while genetic engineering changes the traits by making changes to the DNA. In traditional breeding, crosses are made in a relatively uncontrolled manner. The breeder chooses the parents to cross, but at the genetic level, the results are unpredictable. DNA from the parents recombine randomly. In contrast, genetic engineering permits highly targeted transfer of genes, quick and efficient tracking of genes in the varieties, and ultimately increased efficiency in developing new crop varieties with new and desirable traits.
The deception in this statement is that it mistakenly assumes that genetic engineering of plants is a precise technology for transplanting genes. The fact is that the insertion of foreign DNA is an imprecise and uncontrolled process. One of the common mistakes made by the pro-GMO advocates is that they treat the plant genome like a Lego construction where the insertion or deletion of a gene does not affect the other genes. They argue that adding new genes just adds new properties to the organism. This understanding of genetics was long ago proven obsolete in human biology where scientists have come to understand that most characteristics are influenced by complex interactions among multiple genes and the environment acting together. Yet proponents of GMOS continue to assert their safety based on such antiquated science. In fact the plant genome and that of any other complex living thing is like an ecosystem. This means that introducing or deleting new genes can affect other genes in the plant. This is called “pleiotropy” by biologists. There is another effect called “insertional mutagenesis” in which the added foreign genes causes a mutation in the DNA sequence proximate to it. For example, small changes in the plant genome can affect the expression of genes for nutrition or mycotoxins. There is only one way to tell and that is to test the plants that have been gene adulterated.
The fact that Americans have been consuming large amounts of GMO corn and soybeans does not mean that GMO crops are highly desirable nutritionally unless we know that other changes in the crop have not taken place. One report concludes, “Using the latest molecular analytical methods, GM crops have been shown to have different composition to their non-GM counterparts . . . even when the two crops are grown under the same conditions, at the same time and in the same location.”9 Studies have found that GMO soy contains lower amounts of isoflavones, GMO canola contains lower amounts of vitamin E, and GMO insecticidal rice has higher levels of sucrose, mannitol, and glutamic acid than its non-GMO counterparts. These are all results consumers should know about.
A 2009 paper in the International Journal of Biological Sciences analyzed blood and system data from trials where rats were fed three varieties of commercial varieties of genetically modified maize. They reported new side effects associated with the kidney and liver, which are the body’s primary detoxification organs. The authors of this paper strongly recommend additional long-term studies of the health risks.
Government and industry risk assessments have focused mainly on the foreign DNA introduced into the plant rather than the pleotropic effects on the plant’s genome. According to the European Commission, scientists have not found a deleterious protein introduced by genetic modification into a plant. “It can be concluded that transgenic DNA does not differ intrinsically or physically from any other DNA already present in foods and that the ingestion of transgenic DNA does not imply higher risks than ingestion of any other type of DNA.”10 And the ISAAA proclaims the commercialization of GMOs, which began in 1996, “confirmed the early promise of biotech crops to deliver substantial agronomic, environmental, economic, health, and social benefits to large and small scale farmers worldwide.”11 Yet in 2013 more than two hundred scientists were signatories to an open letter titled “No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety.”
This takes us to another deception, and that is that GMOs are highly regulated.
The FDA’s approach to risk assessment of GMO crops is based on the concept of “substantial equivalence.” While the concept has never been well-defined, it is based on the idea that when a few components of the GMO crop such as certain nutrients and amino acids are similar in content to its non- GMO counterpart, the GMO crop is declared “substantially equivalent.” The vagueness of the concept and its application to risk assessment has been widely criticized.16 The late Marc Lappé wrote, “At the core of the debate between anti-biotechnology activists and its proponents is the assertion that no meaningful differences exist between conventional and genetically engineered food. Establishing the truth of this assertion was critical to deregulating various commodity crops.”17 As previously mentioned, there is growing evidence that GMO crops can have different protein composition than non-GMO varieties.
Under its nonbinding recommendations for industry of “Non-Pesticidal Proteins Produced by New Plant Varieties Intended for Food Use introduced on June 2006,” the FDA requires the manufacturer to provide the name, identity, and function of any new protein produced in a new plant variety. It also requires information as to whether the new protein has been safely consumed in foods; the sources, purpose, or intended technical effect of the introduced genetic material; the amino acid similarity of the new protein with and known allergens and toxins; and the stability and resistance to enzymatic degradation of the protein. Within 120 days after submission for a GMO crop, the FDA will alert the manufacturer whether it has been accepted or whether there are questions about the submission (see note 6). The FDA’s data requirements do not include changes to the other gene expressions in the plant, with mutational mutagenesis and pleiotropy. As of April 2013, the FDA completed ninety-five consultations including thirty for corn, fifteen for cotton, twelve for canola, twelve for soybean, and twenty-four for all other crops including alfalfa, cantaloupe, flax, papaya, plum, potato, squash, sugar beet, tomato, and wheat. These consultations have accepted the assurances from the biotechnology industry that their safety assessment is reliable. The information the FDA receives is shrouded in confidential business information and is not transparent to the independent scientific community on the methods used and the application of the “weight of evidence.”
In a report titled “Potential Health Effects of Foods Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants: What Are the Issues?” published by the Third World Network (an international NGO), two scientists proposed a de minimus list of tests that should serve as the basis for GMO crop health assessment. The report rejects the a priori claim that GMO and hybrid crops should be treated the same. The requirement cited in the report includes a full biochemical, nutrition, and toxicological comparison between the transgene product implanted in the germ plasm of the recipient plant and the original source organism of the transgene. The report also includes a molecular examination of the possible secondary DNA inserts into the plant genome; an assessment of the variation of known toxins of GMO plants grown under different agronomic conditions; and an investigation of the nutritional, immunological, hormonal properties and the allergenicity of GMO products. Some of these tests should involve laboratory animals. The authors state, “Compositional studies and animal tests are but the first in GM risk assessment. Next, long-term, preferably lifetime-long metabolism, immunological and reproduction studies with male and female laboratory and other animal species should also be conducted under controlled conditions.”
The gap between what is being proposed by independent scientists and what is actually being done in hazard assessment of GMO crops is gargantuan. Nowhere is it greater than in the United States where the food safety requirements for GMO crops are similar to the chemical food additives designated as “generally regarded as safe” (or GRAS). In both cases the evaluation of health effects largely has been left to the manufacturers.
The New York Times' James Stewart made clear which side we should be rooting for in the Brazilian presidential elections: the side that lost.
A more evasive kind of climate change denial isn't really a "middle ground."