Thursday, December 29, 2011

Monsanto's Killing Fields

I have recently watched an interview with Dr. Don Huber, Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue specializing in microbiology, that will curl your hair (see the whole 57 minute interview at, and/or another shorter interview with Huber at It deals with Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup (main ingredient glyphosate), and its growing panoply of Roundup Ready seeds which have been genetically engineered to resist the killing effects of glyphosate, thus allowing farmers to spray Roundup liberally, killing all other plants and allowing the Roundup Ready ones to ‘thrive.’ Roundup Ready seeds now in use include Soy (87% of the worldwide crop), Corn, Canola, Cotton and the recently-authorized-by-USDA Alfalfa and Sugar Beets (despite Huber’s urging to Ag Secretary Vilsack to delay the approval of Roundup Ready Alfalfa). Corporate Agriculture considers this a miracle of American science and a boon to farmers and profits and even our health (with Roundup Ready crops, we are told, fewer pesticides have to be applied; Roundup alone does the job).

Dr. Huber, however, informs us in his dry, unemotional style, that this is not merely a mirage, it is a con, a disaster, a crime against nature itself (my words, not his.) The reasons are legion. To begin with, glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, is, like many other pesticides, a “chelator.” That means it binds or creates a barrier around essential mineral micronutrients which are critical to the very heart of life and growth, especially enzyme function. Most critically, it is not just plants that require enzyme function; all organisms and microorganisms need them. So, to cripple the efficiency of a plant’s mineral uptake is essentially to kill them, and to counteract this killing, Monsanto has genetically engineered seeds whose plants have an alternative pathway for the uptake of some of these essential nutrients. They can ‘survive’ the poison of Roundup thereby. But the key point is this: the plant that gets sprayed with Roundup, even the GMO plant, still gets dosed with large quantities of the Roundup sprayed upon it. So does the soil, with all its microorganisms. Thus you get crops that have glyphosate on and in them (the glyphosate goes to key parts, like the seeds), and soil whose microorganisms are damaged the same way—microorganisms, one of whose main functions is to fight diseases. According to Huber, there are already 40 newly-thriving pathogens on many of our crops—diseases that used to be managed. No more. What’s worse, since these GMO crops—especially corn, soy and alfalfa—are the main feed we give to our stock animals, they too are being affected. A botulism has been seen recently in the intestinal tract of cows because glyphosate in the feed is killing or disabling the normal organisms in the cow’s gut that used to fight it.

Now here is where it gets scary. As noted above, all life employs the same basic mechanisms. So if glyphosate impairs the gut ecology in animals, we can expect that the effect in human stomachs will be similar if not exactly the same. Studies have already been done showing that in virtually 100% of cases, stock animals are showing a deficiency in manganese (needed for its antioxidant properties, its role in protecting plants from disease, and its enzyme-activating role in digestion) due to the chelating effect of Roundup Ready feed. There are also studies showing high levels of glyphosate in animal manure (so how use this animal manure on crops???) due to the feed they’re eating (all those Roundup Ready crops, now to include alfalfa), plus some new organism from hell (the electron microscope image of this thing is terrifying) that is suspected of causing reproductive failure in farm animals. First noted by vets in 1998, the fertility failure rate in dairy cattle has reached such proportions—45 to 70%--that dairies now worry about maintaining their stocks (note that Roundup Ready soy and corn were first used as feed in 1998.) And of course, the real killer in all this: though hordes of researchers are trying to identify it, no one yet knows what it is. It seems to be about the same size as a virus, it can be cultured, it is self-replicating, there’s lots of it in GMO corn and soy, but scientists don’t know what it is.

Thus publication about its causes is lagging, but not just for reasons of uncertainty, and here the lugubrious Dr. Huber got as animated as he allows himself to get. Monsanto controls the science in this area. Anyone who does research that is not favorable to its products is either silenced, fired, or prohibited access to all products under patent. Why? because Monsanto makes such research illegal. And the EPA and the FDA and the USDA all go along with it, because the lobby for big agribusiness controls the Congress and all government agencies dealing with such products.

So here’s what we’ve got, folks. We’ve got the most widely-used herbicide in the world killing not only plants (including impairing their ability to fix nitrogen from the air) but essential soil microorganisms and beneficial intestinal organisms in animals. We’ve got GMO crops that allow that product to be used in higher concentrations than ever because we’re told the magic of GMO somehow keeps the stuff off the GMO crop in question, when it doesn’t. And we’ve got symptoms now of some new monster organism that seems to be spreading abortions, infertility and premature aging among the farm animals (not only cattle but chickens, pigs and horses too) on whom we depend. And we haven’t even talked about glyphosate’s proven record as an endocrine disruptor—Huber mentions, in this regard, the notably lowered sperm count of human males, less than half of what it was only 20 years ago. And above all, we have a totally compromised government and its agencies supposedly protecting us, but keeping themselves busiest blackballing and outlawing the science and the scientists who have been trying to sound the alarm about all this.

I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to call for all-out war on Monsanto, on the USDA and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, and everyone else involved in the monstrous system we have allowed to thrive. I’m about ready to sign on with Lierre Keith, who recently called for serious radical action—whatever force it takes—to bring the entire sick system down. I mean, what else is there to do? Appeal to their better nature? It is to laugh, because these people—the CEOs, the so-called scientists Monsanto employs, the toadies in Congress who protect them to keep their state revenues jangling—are willing to poison every living thing on earth in order to maintain their stranglehold on the markets they have cornered. They care not a whit for life—plant life, microbial life, animal life, human life. They care only about killing. Why should we care about them or their sick, profit-driven lives? Why should we not begin a movement that a recent Newsweek column (Newsweek! imagine) predicted would include the following:

There will be prosecutions and show trials. There will be violence, mark my words. Houses burnt, property defaced. (Michael Thomas, Newsweek, Dec. 28)

And I believe there will. And if it targets any of the evil bastards who work, in any way shape or form, for the devil-spawned corporate monstrosity called Monsanto, I for one will cheer and salute and encourage it until the beast is choked on its own deadly brew.

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, December 16, 2011


As I’ve come to expect in this “Season of Joy,” my mood has been growing more gloomy as the season progresses. Too many “Christmas Specials” with too many expected songs; too many commercials urging us to ‘hurry: only a limited and steadily decreasing number of shopping days left’; too much of the sense that increasingly each year the remembered spirit of this once-holy season becomes more and more degraded by the over-hyped orgy of conspicuous consumption it has become.

Then this morning, a possible turn. Though I have long since abandoned the theology the season supposedly represents—the virgin birth of a God called Jesus in a manger marked by a star—the underlying mystery is both profound and worthy of contemplation. I mean the idea of incarnation. Christian (in my case, Catholic) teaching makes a good deal of this: God comes to earth to save us (that’s the big takeaway) by incarnating: he deigns to become flesh, he takes human shape, as one of us. That’s what the joy is supposed to be about: God himself, or rather, his only begotten son, has come to be us all, to save us all. The problem is that this is hyped as something fantastic, something special, something that has happened only once in history, with the corollary that we, the chosen ones, are the only ones who know this and can thereby benefit from it. That’s where the bullshit creeps in. Because incarnation really is a big deal, only not in the manner of something special, something unique to us fortunate humans of the Christians persuasion, who alone will ride to heaven on its back. No. It’s a big deal because it is the great mystery at the center of all our lives, of all life, of all being. Incarnation. Something becomes flesh. Something that is presumably without substance, i.e. nothing, becomes something. And that is a big deal.

Now humans have long noticed this, have long made it a central mystery. A plant appears out of the ground in the spring. Miracle. Mystery. Repeated millions of times. Millions of fishes sprout from the sea: mystery; gazillions of bugs appear in flight from nowhere, as do thousands upon thousands of birds and gophers and all the beasts of the field. Miraculous, and beneficial to us, mostly, the humans who must depend upon crops and flocks and fishes. And so arise the mystery cults, the stories of Demeter and her child Persephone miming the miracle of birth of all nature in the Spring. And of course, in the Christ story, a child bursts forth from a virgin womb, signifying not only the miracle of human birth, but the mysterious birth of God himself. The mystery of incarnation. The problem is that we now know too much to be awed by this anymore, to genuflect or sacrifice to it anymore. We know how plants arise from seed. We ‘know’ that they convert energy from the sun via photosynthesis, and from the soil via mineral transport, and grow cell by cell. We know how humans and all other animals are conceived, via sperm and egg and growth by cell division, all governed by those helical strands of DNA. So the old mysteries, the pretty stories, become myths—tales told by the ignorant to explain processes too deeply embedded in tiny events for the ancients to perceive. And we abandon them, we replace mystery with the “holidays” whose chief purpose is to get us to spend lavishly and keep feeding an economy which depends for its continuance on the utter stupidity of our buying what neither we nor anyone else needs. (I should say that when I was young many years ago, Christmas still had, at least for us, the quality of need: we got coats or boots or gloves we sorely needed to replace outgrown or worn-out ones; and for something impractical, an orange or tangerine that in winter, in the northeast, still had the aura and taste of a rarity.)

But I digress. I was saying how we’ve abandoned the mysteries that are no longer believable—except I suppose in art, like Handel’s Messiah, which still, despite our knowledge, retains some power. But I digress again. What I meant to say, to remind myself, is that incarnation, even stripped of all its mythological trappings by our science, still radiates power. Indeed, it remains the central mystery. And we can, at least partly, thank science for that too. That’s because while rational science has swept away all the “myths” with its penetrating revelations of biology at the cellular level, when it goes deeper, and it has gone deeper, it brings us right back to the mystery again. Though it has shown us, objectively, what happens at the molecular level and even at the atomic level, at the quantum level things get spooky again, mysterious again. That is to say, at the quantum level, we are now told (and virtually none of us can verify this ourselves) that much of elementary matter—those teeny tiny components of atoms and even electrons, with names like quarks and leptons and gluons and bosons—simply appears out of the void. Matter at its most elementary level, the things of which we are made, simply pop into existence and then pop out again. And we don’t know why. Physicists have, of course, named this. They call it “quantum fluctuation” (see, “It’s confirmed: Matter is merely vacuum fluctuations” by Stephen Battersby). They even attribute the birth of the universe, our universe, that is, to quantum fluctuations (no deity needed) which initiated the process leading to the big bang, which burst in this unimaginably fierce explosion to send all those compressed bits careening out into what has become our universe, inflating and expanding faster and faster until gravity gathered things together to produce galaxies and stars and planets and us.

And it all came from incarnation. Matter just popping into existence. Something from nothing. Here is how Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow put it in their recent book, The Grand Design (2010):

Quantum fluctuations lead to the creation of tiny universes out of nothing. A few of these reach a critical size, then expand in an inflationary manner, forming galaxies, stars, and, in at least one case, beings like us. p. 137.

Now I don’t know about most physicists, but to me, that’s pretty mysterious stuff. And it’s not just that I don’t understand quantum mechanics, which I don’t. The truth seems to be that nobody really understands it. There are formulas to explain things, and experiments that seem to prove it works, but when I read that multiple universes (the concept rather makes the word ‘universe’ an oddity) probably sprang from quantum fluctuations and the big bang, and that all those parallel universes probably exist somewhere; or that when particles split through a screen, there is the possibility that though some land where we can identify them, some have probably tripped out to the most distant corners of the universe; or that we and our whole universe may be a holographic projection of some outer surface of a black hole, well then I have to say that the great mystery of incarnation still exists. The great mystery, that is, is and has always been: why there is something rather than nothing? How is there something? Is there a where from which we and all else derive?

This, I think, is really what we should be pondering during this season. Incarnation. Whether we should be joyful about it or not I suppose depends, at least in part, on one’s situation. But it also depends on the very fact of being. It depends on the improbable fact that something rather than nothing exists. It depends on the fact that the void, the vacuum, the nothing has produced and continues to generate, every day, every hour, every second, every millisecond more stuff, more of this improbable glory, more impossible incarnation. And though keeping the stupid economy going does not deserve celebration, this, this continuous mysterious incarnation, this ongoing mystery of the word (or whatever it is) made flesh, surely does.

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Everywhere

Police nationwide having moved in, at this point (Police on Dec. 7 finally attacked and destroyed the Occupation in downtown San Francisco), the Occupiers in public spaces of dozens and dozens of American cities have been forced to leave. But is this the end, as many have feared?

Not quite. In what some have called the next logical and brilliant move, the Occupiers have shifted their locus (not their focus) to the core of the crisis: bank foreclosures of homes. As Stephen Lerner, an organizer with SEIU, says: “…we’ve occupied public space — now we need to occupy private space that’s been stolen by banks.” Sean Barry of VOCAL-NY adds: “One of our messages is that there’s more empty homes that banks are sitting on than there are homeless families.”

Still, some might think, ‘oh, foreclosures; that’s old hat, a story that’s over.’ But it isn’t. According to many insiders, the banks have yet to foreclose on the majority of homes in the U.S., perhaps as many as 4 million more. More than that, the AP reports in its story on foreclosure occupations that “Nearly a quarter of all U.S. homeowners with mortgages are now underwater, representing nearly 11 million homes” (CT Post, December 6). That’s 11 million homes, folks, 1 out of 4. Talk about the Great Depression. Which is what, by the way, Rachel Maddow did on a recent MSNBC show (well worth watching). As an introduction to her sympathetic segment on the Occupy Foreclosures movement, she showed news reports and movie clips of exactly the same kind of resistance during the early 1930s when millions of Americans were losing their homes and farms. Huge crowds would show up and resist not just passively or peacefully, but by first putting the furniture that had been removed by authorities back into the homes, and then by throwing rocks and utensils and farm implements at police arriving to enforce the evictions. These people were pissed off and they were serious.

So, it seems, are today’s occupiers. The AP report cited above claims that homes in more than 25 cities were involved in Tuesday’s protests. And more are on the way. Said one of the Seattle organizers: “It's pretty clear that the fight is against the banks, and the Occupy movement is about occupying spaces. So occupying a space that should belong to homeowners but belongs to the banks seems like the logical next step for the Occupy movement.” In response, Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb insisted that occupying private property represented the same violation—trespassing—that occupying public space did. The police response, and the penalties, would be the same. But the occupiers are unfazed. In Atlanta, protesters disrupted a home auction of foreclosed properties with whistles and sirens. Several individual home foreclosures have already been stopped, and the evictees given more time to try to work out a deal with the banks. One woman in Cleveland expressed gratitude to the occupiers, who came and camped out in tents in her backyard, frightening off officials who were supposed to come and evict her. She was still in her home on December 6 (see Maddow video). Moreover, the Occupiers have joined forces with groups that have been active for several years (Take Back the Land, Viva Urbana) in defending homes against evictions—supplying fresh and enthusiastic troops for the earlier efforts. The movement also derives encouragement and tactics from movements in other countries like Spain, where the 15M movement has stopped hundreds of evictions and occupied vacant buildings.

That this movement has moral authority can be seen by what NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in a recent interview with a Chase banker named Theckston:

He (Theckston) says that some account executives earned a commission seven times higher from subprime loans, rather than prime mortgages. So they looked for less savvy borrowers — those with less education, without previous mortgage experience, or without fluent English — and nudged them toward subprime loans.
These less-savvy borrowers were disproportionately blacks and Latinos, he said, and they ended up paying a higher rate so that they were more likely to lose their homes. Senior executives seemed aware of this racial mismatch, he recalled, and frantically tried to cover it up. (Kristof cited by Sarah Seltzer, Alternet, Dec. 5)

We’ve all heard accusations about this type of cruel and intentional fraud before, but to hear an admission of it of from one of the bankers involved is stunning.

This—the moral authority they have, both currently and historically—is why the Occupy movement has the powers-that-be scrambling for ways to de-legitimize it. I mentioned in my last blog the rumor about a public relations firm being hired by bankers. More recently, Republican talking-points guru, Frank Luntz, expressed his concern about it to the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando: “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” he said, and offered 10 tips on what specific language to use to counter it. First and foremost, “Don’t say ‘capitalism.’ Use ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market’ instead.” Now this is really interesting: even the Republicans are admitting that the American public now thinks ‘capitalism’ is immoral! And if Republicans are seen as “defenders of ‘Wall Street’,” says Luntz, “we’ve got a problem.” (Yahoo News, Dec. 1)

Karl Marx must be smiling. Imagine, the Republican Party, that bastion of mindless boosterism, is running away from capitalism as a concept. Moreover, Luntz also advises Repubs not to say government ‘taxes the rich;’ instead say government ‘takes from the rich,’ because Americans respond favorably to ‘taxing the rich.’ By God, I sure hope the clueless, pusillanimous Democrats have read this. Because Luntz urges other verbal subterfuge as well, and all reflect two things: the Republicans are vulnerable and scared (as well they should be, their policies having brought this nation to the brink of disaster), and at the other end, have thoroughly absorbed the lessons of the TV age about framing a message properly, while Democrats have not. Now, finally, there’s a golden opportunity to hang the Republicans with the real message and practice they and their financial masters have been promoting for years: advancing the cause of the 1% at the expense of the 99%.

So far, the only element in the nation that has understood this, and been willing to act on it, are the Occupiers. We can only hope that the American people in ever greater numbers will begin to get it as well, and that the hapless talking heads they elect to public office will follow. The only question is, how much of everywhere has to be occupied and how many of the rest of us have to be jailed before the worm turns?

Lawrence DiStasi