A Study in Israeli Pro-Corporate Propaganda

 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

By Yuval Noah Harari

Kinnneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir (Hebrew edition) 2011

McLelland & Stewart (English paperback) 2016

Book Review

I picked up this book believing Harari was an anthropologist. He’s actually an Israeli historian and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His area of of specialty is medieval and military history.*

The book is aimed at a sixth grade reading level and and displays a disappointing lack of scholarship (Harari has mentioned in several interviews that “meditation” is a primary tool he uses in research). Largely based on popular pseudo-scientific mythology, it seems aimed at promoting Harari’s pet theories linking history and biology to conclude humans have no serious alternative to the pro-corporate political/economic regime we currently live under.

Many of his assertions blatantly contradict existing research evidence:

  • Harari devotes a whole chapter to the history of money, which he erroneously traces back to barter. This is a discredited myth first promulgated by Adam Smith in his 1776 Wealth of Nations. Recent anthropological research indicates that primitive credit creation (rather than barter) was the true precursor to coins and notes.
  • He states Columbus died erroneously believing he had discovered islands off the west coast of India, which is totally unsupported by the contemporaneous letters and diaries (See Lies My Teacher Told Me).
  • He maintains industrialized agriculture was essential to the development of industrialized cities, which totally overlooks major cities India built  in a country devoted almost exclusively to pre-industrial agriculture. At present industrialized agriculture only produces 20% of the food we eat. See Capitlaism, Colonialism and the Failure of Industrial Agriculture
  • He promotes the discredited myth that fields and and feed lots have become vastly more productive thanks to artificial fertilizers and pesticides, hormones, and GMOs. More than two decades of research reveals otherwise – that industrial monoculture agriculture produces far fewer calories per acre than traditional polyculture methods that emphasize soil health. Other research reveals industrial farming methods are systematically degrading and depleting topsoil, as well as killing vital soil organisms and pollinators (such as bees).
  • He also promotes the discredited serotonin model of happiness promoted by drug companies, despite hundreds of studies showing SSRIs are no more effective in alleviating depression than placebo.

Some of his claims are just plain ludicrous (even for 2011):

  • Since 1945 no independent nation recognized by the UN has been wiped off the map. (He conveniently overlooks Palestine)
  • The world has seen no international wars since 1945. (What about the US wars on Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Yemen?).
  • Famine has been eliminated (He seems to overlook the 800,000 – 1,000,000 million people who die annually from malnutrition and malnutrition-related illness).
  • He assures us that prophecies of resource scarcity are “probably misplaced” (ignoring well-documented collapse of fish stocks, die off of bees and other pollinators, freshwater shortages, and topsoil depletion).
  • He maintains if we are sick in modern society, health insurance steps in (Is he joking?)

*See How Yuval Harari Became the Pet Ideologist of the Liberal Elites

Why Growth is the Main Cause of Poverty

Growth Equals Poverty

Vendana Shiva (2013)

In this presentation, environmentalist and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva challenges the Wall Street mythology that economic growth reduces poverty. Using her own country India as an example, she demonstrates how poverty (and inequality) increase in direct correlation to GDP increases.

The examples she offers clearly apply to the US, UK and New Zealand. All three countries are experiencing alarming increases in poverty and inequality as GDP increases. As in India, the quality and availability of health, education and other public services have declined steeply as “growth” has increased.

She goes on to demonstrate what GDP growth really represents: the privatization (ie theft) of natural and public resources by a small number of elites.

In India at present, 1/4 of the population lives in abject poverty and 1/2 of children are malnourished. Vendana blames the increase in hunger on the forced adoption of industrial agriculture and GMO crops. Monsanto and GMO advocates like Bill gates argue that GMOs will decrease world hunger. In India, where Monsanto has successfully lobbied to make it illegal for farmers to save seed, just the opposite has happened.

This due partly to Monsanto’s seed monopoly, which has caused an 8,000% increase in the cost of seed; partly to the high cost of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides GMO crops require; and partly to the destruction of soil, bees and biodiversity caused by industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

The True Cost of Cheap Meat

farmageddon

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat

By Philip Lymbery with Isobel Oakeshott

Bloomsbury Press (2014)

Book Review

Farmageddon is about the false economy of industrial meat production. While the corporations that promote factory farming applaud themselves for producing “cheap meat” for poor people, when societal costs are counted, industrially produced meat costs society approximately 25 times the sticker price. So as not to infringe on corporate profits, the excess costs (for environmental clean-up and a myriad of health problems) are transferred to the taxpayer.

Lymbery, a long time organic farming proponent, provides an extremely thorough and compelling expose of the numerous drawbacks of raising livestock in concrete warehouses. The side effects of living adjacent to a factory farm include air and water pollution by toxic herbicides and pesticides, nitrates, pathogenic bacteria and arsenic; loss of songbirds, bees and other insect species; reduced life expectancy,* increased exposure to disease carrying mosquitoes, loss of earthworms (due to fertilizer-related soil acidification), increased incidence (by threefold) of childhood asthma; increased antibiotic resistance (due to routine feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed cows, pigs and chickens); reduced sperm counts and increased breast cancer and renal tumors related to Roundup, the herbicide used with GMO crops.

Lymbery also includes a section on industrially farmed fish and they risks they pose to the health of wild fish populations.

His final chapter includes a variety of policy recommendations that could facilitate a move away from industrial farming to safer, less environmentally destructive traditional farming.


*Individuals who live adjacent to intensive dairy farms have a ten year decrease in life expectancy.

Fighting Monsanto in India

Bullshit!

Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Kardalian (2005)

Film Review

Bullshit! is about Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva. It takes its title from the “Bullshit Award” she received from a pro-Monsanto lobby group in 2004. Despite the intended insult (they sent the cow dung through the mail), Vendana was thrilled. Cow dung is revered in rural India, where it’s used as fuel and mixed with mud to construct water tight walls and flooring.

The film traces how Vendana abandoned nuclear physics in 1985 to start the Novdanya Institute, dedicated to reclaiming native plants and seeds as a commons for people to enjoy collectively – instead of a private commodity to increase the profits of multinational seed companies like Monsanto.

Novdanya runs a seed bank called The School of Nine Seeds. Its primary purpose is to preserve rare and heritage seeds that have been large replaced by a handful of hybrid monoculture crops. With growing water scarcity, Novdanya places special emphasis on drought resistant millets with a high protein content.

Another high priority for Vendana is her battle against Monsanto’s campaign to flood India, an early target starting in the late nineties, with GMO crops. Many Indian farmers have bankrupted themselves purchasing GMO seeds, particularly Roundup-ready varieties. When the high yields they were promised failed to eventuate, thousands committed suicide.*

Bullshit! also profiles Vendana’s role in the antiglobalization movement, particularly the anti-WTO protest in Cancun Mexico in September 2003. The public suicide of Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae was instrumental in galvanizing opposition from third world farmers against WTO provisions enabling the US to destroy local markets by dumping cheap agricultural products in third world countries.

In 2000 Vendana collaborated with Greenpeace to force the EU to revoke a patent they had granted Monsanto on the neem tree and an ancient variety of Indian wheat.

The film  ends by highlighting Shiva’s involvement, along with other high profile antiglobalization activists (including Canadian water activist Maude Barlow and French farmer Jose Bove) in a 640-day sit down strike to shut down a Coca Cola bottling plant that was illegal depleting a fresh water aquifer.


*According to New Dehli TV, close to 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995.
** The final breakdown of the so-called “Doha Round” of WTO negotiations in 2008 would eventually lead the US to promote the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and Transatlantic Trade and Partnership Initiative (TTPI) in its place.

Fighting (and Dying) to Reclaim the Commons in Latin America

Land of Corn

Peace Brigades International (2015)

Film Review

Land of Corn is a documentary by Peace Brigades International about four environmental and land rights activists fighting to protect the commons in Oaxca Mexico, Santa Helena Honduras, Choco Columbia and La Primavera Guatemala. In each case, activists are fighting collusion between US-backed corrupt governments and international corporations to end their communal land rights and destroy their livelihood.

In Oaxca, a multinational corporation seeks to illegally evict residents to construct a giant wind farm.

In Santa Helena Honduras, a US-backed corporate giant seeks to displace local farmers for a giant dam and hydroelectric project. This illegal eviction stems directly from the 2009 US-backed coup, in which Obama and Hillary Clinton supported the overthrow of the democratically elected Honduran president.

In Primavera Guatemala, a multinational seeks to clear cut a rain forest residents’ ancestors have fought for generations to preserve.

In Choco Columbia, land rights activists are seeking to reclaim land they lost in the 1980s and 1990s to a corrupt public-private partnership that converted their land to large scale cattle ranches and palm oil and GMO crop plantations.

It’s extremely dangerous to be a land rights/environmental activist in US-backed Latin American countries. One-hundred-sixteen were assassinated in 2014 alone. Those featured in the film face constant death threats. On March 3, 2016 Honduran activist Berta Caceres was murdered by gunmen in her sleep.

As a woman fighting to reclaim community land in Columbia bitterly observes, non-farm jobs are virtually non-existent in her country. If her family is unsuccessful in reclaiming their land, their only other option is to  illegally immigrate to the US, as so many other displaced Latin American peasants have done.

The Food Sovereignty Prize: Taking Back the Commons

Lucas Benitez, co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from the United States, makes his acceptance speech after being honored at WhyHunger's 2012 Food Sovereignty Prize, which honors grassroots leaders working for a more democratic food system, New York, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Stuart Ramson/Insider Images for WhyHunger)

Lucas Benitez, co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from the United States, makes his acceptance speech after being honored at WhyHunger’s 2012 Food Sovereignty Prize, which honors grassroots leaders working for a more democratic food system, New York, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Stuart Ramson/Insider Images for WhyHunger)

While the corporate media slavishly promotes genetic modification and other technological fixes to global hunger, the food sovereignty movement continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the Food Sovereignty Alliance, which works to rebuild local food economies and asserts democratic control over food production. They assert that all human beings deserve a right to determine how and where their food is grown.

The prize was first awarded in 2009 as an alternative to the World Food Prize, a corporate sponsored award for technological fixes – such as genetic modification – promoted by the global elite as a solution to world hunger.

The 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize winners are the US-based Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH)

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives was created in 1967 as the economic arm of the civil rights movement. Their main purpose has been

• To develop cooperatives and credit unions as a means for people to enhance the quality of their lives and preserve their communities;
• To save, protect and expand the landholdings of Black family farmers in the south;
• To develop, advocate and support public policies to benefit their members and low income rural communities.

At present the federation has over 70 active co-ops across ten southern states, with a membership of more than 20,000 families.

The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) was created in 1979 to protect the economic, social and cultural right of 46 Garifuna communities along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. Land grabs for agrofuels (African palm plantations) and tourist resort development seriously threaten their way of life. Most of these illegal evictions stem directly from the 2009 US-backed coup, in which the Obama administration supported the overthrow of a democratically elected president with a strong land reform agenda.

OFRANEH brings together communities to meet these challenges head-on, through direct-action community organizing, national and international legal action, promotion of Garifuna culture (mixed Afro-descendent and indigenous), and movement building. OFRANEH especially prioritizes the leadership development of women and youth.

Resisting Monsanto’s Occupation of Hawaii

Aina: That Which Feeds Us

Living Ancestors (2015)

Film Review

Aina is a short documentary about the Waipa Foundation, an organization run by native Hawaiians to restore traditional farming practices to Kauai (Hawaii). The group’s primary focus is to encourage a return to traditional organic farming practices. At the moment their main goal is the taro plant, a traditional staple, by giving the poi (the underground corm of the taro plant) away free to community members. They’re also working to reduce obesity by encouraging a return to the traditional diet (fish, pork, greens and poi).

Prior to seeing the film, I had no idea the extent to which the Hawaiian islands have been “occupied” by Monsanto and other multinational corporations engaged in GMO research. One of the group’s biggest concerns is the massive amount of Roundup, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin, sprayed adjacent to schools. In one highly publicized incident, 50 children had to be hospitalized following exposure to Roundup.

The Waipa Foundation is intent on returning Kauai (Hawaii) to 100% sustainability in food and energy production. With a present population of 1.2 million, the state imports 90% of its food and energy. One hundred years ago, one million Hawaiians lived in abundance without importing anything.

 

The Ugly Side of the Fashion Industry

The True Cost

By Andrew Morgan (2015)

Film Review

The True Cost is about the immense environmental and human cost of the fashion industry – all for the sake of a few people raking in immense profits.

The modern trend of “fast fashion” is the most destructive. Over the last few decades, the big fashion brands have sought to make clothes so cheap that consumers only wear them a few times before discarding them and buying new ones.

The average American purchases 80 pieces of clothing a year, 400% more than two decades ago. The US disposes of 11 million pounds of textile waste a year, an average of 82 pounds per person.

Reliance on Sweatshops

Lowering the cost of clothes has necessitated moving 97% of clothing manufacture overseas. Bangladesh, where workers (who are 85% women) earn less than $3 a day,  is the favorite of most big name brands like the Gap.

The women work and live in total squalor. In the past few years , 1,000 workers were killed when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed. Hundreds more have died in a series of fires. The pay is insufficient for the women to provide housing for their children. They remain with relatives in the countryside and see their mothers at most once or twice a year.

Thanks to Global Exchange and the anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s, all the big fashion brands sign voluntary codes of conduct to makes sure their local contractors respect the human rights of their sweatshop workers (which they never enforce). The big brands also systematically obstruct federal legislation that would make such codes compulsory.

The Second Most Polluting Industry in the World

The environment degradation caused by “fast fashion” is equally horrific. The garment industry is the most polluting in the world (second only to oil). The global proliferation of GMO cotton has had devastating health effects in India and the Lubbock Texas area. Until I saw this film, I was unaware that Lubbock is one of the largest cotton producing regions in the world.

In Texas most of the GMO cotton is Roundup Ready, Monsanto’s best selling pesticide. Heavy exposure is responsible for a large cancer cluster among Lubbock area residents.

In India, both Roundup Ready and Bt Cotton are grown. The former is responsible for a significant increase in birth defects, cancer and mental illness. The latter is responsible for a serious reduction in crop yields (the pesticide Bt Cotton produces kills the soil bacteria responsible for soil fertility). The loss of soil fertility has led to farmers losing their land and livelihood, as well as over 200,000 farmer suicides in the last 15 years.

India is also experiencing massive chromium contamination of the Ganges River and surrounding groundwater, from chemicals used in tanning leather for the western fashion industry.

Spin, Propaganda and Lies

The fashion industry pumps out propaganda that sweatshops are good because they create jobs for people who otherwise would have no alternative. This ignores the deleterious effect of “free trade” treaties that have destroyed the rural economies of many third world countries.

The official narrative also belies collusion between the fashion industry and the Vietnamese government, known for brutally beating and killing garment workers during peaceful protests demanding a minimum wage.

The full film was available on YouTube last week but has been taken down. You can rent it from VHX or iTunes for $3.99: Watch now

Food Inc

Food Inc

Directed by Robert Kenner (2008)

Film Review

Food Inc is a 2008 classic only recently available for free on-line screening. Featuring investigative journalist Eric Schlosser and food activist Michael Pollan, it’s the first and (in my view) the best expose of factory farming.

This film mainly focuses on the deplorable disease-inducing conditions of battery chicken houses and industrial feedlots and slaughterhouses. However it also draws attention to the current epidemic of food borne illness, diabetes and heart disease; the corporate capture of regulatory agencies meant to protect us; the federal subsidies that make junk food cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables; Monsanto’s vicious treatment of farmers who choose not to grow GMO crops and the food disparagement and anti-labeling laws meant to keep consumer sin the dark about where their food comes from.

Most importantly this documentary questions whether the “cheap” food produced by industrial farming is really so cheap when you add in the health costs (especially of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease)

The cinematography captures horrific scenes of factory chicken houses where chickens live on top of each other in total darkness and feed lots in which cows spend their whole life knee-deep in manure. The latter cakes their hides and inevitably contaminates carcasses at the slaughterhouse.

The films draws interesting parallels between the abysmal treatment of animals and workers in the industrial food chain. Food executives argue that animal suffering is inconsequential because they’ll all be dead soon. They also regard immigrant workers as expendable because there are so many of them.

The filmmakers catch meat processors deliberately recruiting illegal laborers in Mexican villages devastated by the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). Employers are never prosecuted for these activities. Only immigrant workers are targeted.

https://vimeo.com/29575879

How Plants Control Us

The Botany of Desire

Directed by Michael Schwarz and Edward Gray (2009)

Film Review

The Botany of Desire is a 2009 PBS documentary based on Michael Pollan’s 2001 book The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the Word. Both concern the co-evolution of plants and human beings and the vital symbiotic relationships they form.  Pollan focuses specifically on the apple, the tulip, the cannabis plant and the potato, detailing how each has evolved to deliberately appeal to human desire. In addition to tracing each plant to its region of origin, he highlights specific biological adaptations it has made to make it appealing to human beings.

The film is full of fascinating factual tidbits, eg that apple trees still grow wild in Kazakhstan and poke up through sidewalk cracks and that potatoes were essential in fueling the development of northern Europe (which is prone to erratic grain harvests) and the industrial revolution.

In addition to providing lavish detail about the art and science of indoor cannabis cultivation, Pollan also examines research into specific cannabis receptors in the human brain. The latter play an important role in helping us forget painful and/or irrelevant memories.

The video concludes by focusing on some of the drawbacks of industrial agriculture, especially our over-reliance on monoculture crops. The loss of diversity in our corporatized foods system makes our food crops far more susceptible to pests. This, in turn, makes us over reliant on toxic pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

As Pollan stresses at the end of the film, the solution to problems caused by monoculture isn’t more technology. The solution is to end monoculture by diversifying food production.

My only point of disagreement was Pollan’s statement (in 2009) that plants lack consciousness. More recent research suggests that they’re more aware of their environment than we are. See Are Plants Smarter than We Are?

YouTube has taken the film down for copyrights reasons but it can be viewed free at PBS videos