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.

Corporatization, Globalization and Indian Farmer Suicides

Nero’s Guests

Directed by Dhepa Bhatia (2013)

Film Review

Nero’s Guests is about Indian rural affairs journalist Palagummi Sainath and his investigation of farmer suicides (see The Ugly Side of the Fashion Industry) in India and the neoliberal policies responsible for them.

Sixty percent of India’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Sainath has been one of very few journalists reporting on the brutal effect of neoliberalism and globalization on India’s rural sector – where 836 million people live on less than fifty cents a day.

He specifically blames the corporatization of agriculture, which has driven hundreds of thousands of farmers off their land, and “free trade” policies that allow Europe and North America to destroy local markets with cheap coffee, cotton and other commodities. All to increase the profits of a handful of western corporations.

Thanks to “fair trade” provisions enforced by the World Trade Organization, India exports twenty tons of grain a year to feed European livestock at lower prices than India’s poor are charged for grain.

When Indian farmers are driven off their land, they migrate to the cities for jobs that don’t exist. Since the 2008 economic downturn, more than one million urban jobs have disappeared due to “austerity” cuts.

The film provides poignant close-ups of rural families that have lost family members to suicide. These contrast starkly with cameos of Indian celebrities and their condescending superficiality in addressing poverty.

 

This is What Democracy Looks Like

2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, the week of protests in November-December 1999 that shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) Third Ministerial Round. Also known as the Doha Round, the intention of these negotiations was to significantly expand the power of multinational corporations to challenge democratically enacted labor, environmental and health and safety laws.

Opening ceremonies had to be canceled on November 30, when seventy to one hundred thousand global protestors stormed downtown Seattle and hundreds of activists chained themselves to cement pipes to block delegates’ access to the Paramount Theater. The police riot which ensued was our first encounter with the police militarization that would characterize the new millennium. Rather than simply arresting them, Seattle police beat, tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, journalists and passersby alike.*

Organizing Began in January 1999

I still lived in Seattle in 1999 and participated in the local organizing. We began in January 1999 when Mike Dolan, Public Citizen’s national field organizer, called the first planning meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple. Dolan continued to visit Seattle for monthly meetings, as well as coordinating organizing efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and other major US cities.

The biggest challenge in organizing the anti-WTO protest was that hardly any Americans had heard of the WTO in 1999, much less recognized the immense power Clinton was handing to private corporations with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the treaty that created the WTO in 1994.

With 100,000 activists descending on Seattle, it became necessary to set up a home stay network to provide them with accommodation. I hosted seven activists in my home, two each from Los Angeles and Alaska, and three from the Mendocino County Rainforest Action Network.

The IFG Teach-In

The week started Friday night November 26, when 3,000+ of us packed into Seattle’s Symphony Hall for a two day teach-in organized by the International Forum on Globalization. World famous anti-globalization activists (including Indian anti-GMO activist Vendana Shiva, Malaysian economist and journalist Martin Khor, Canadian water activist Maude Barlow, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, French farmer activist Jose Bove, Ghanaian farmer activist Tete Hormeku, anti-sweatshop organizer Kevin Danaher and Owens Wiwa, brother of executed Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa) each gave twenty minute presentations, followed by questions and small group discussion at the Seattle Art Museum across the street.

Maria Galaradin recorded all the presentations and has many of them archived at TUC Radio

On November 27-29, there were a series of small non-confrontational protest actions organized by specific interest groups. On November 28, I participated in a protest march to the Cargill grain elevator at the port to protest the corporate takeover of global food production by large companies such as Cargill and Monsanto. It was led by representatives of the Zapatistas, Via Campesino and the US National Family Farm Coalition.

Protest organizers had scheduled the main protest, involving fifty thousands global trade unionists and tens of thousands of farm and environmental activists for November 30, the day WTO negotiations were meant to start. We had planned three days of workshops and small localized protests for December 1-3.

Mayor Paul Schell Declares Martial Law

All this changed when Mayor Paul Schell declared martial law and made it illegal to carry anti-WTO signs, wear anti-WTO buttons, chant anti-WTO slogans or carry anti-WTO leaflets into downtown Seattle. Angered by the unprovoked police violence and suspension of our first amendment rights, organizers cancelled all previously scheduled events. Instead we held daily spontaneously organized marches into downtown Seattle – in direct defiance of Schell’s suspension of the Constitution.

Both of the videos below were produced in 2000. The first, Trade Off, by documentary filmmaker Shaya Mercer, focuses mainly on Dolan, his organizing strategy and the wide range of international organizers and groups who helped make the protest possible.

The second video This is What Democracy Looks like was produced by Seattle Independent Media Center, which would spawn the birth of the global IndyMedia network. This film focuses more on the militarized police violence against peaceful protestors and the role of the week long protests in convincing third world WTO delegates to reject the draconian demands of the US and its first world allies.

Obama Resorts to Secret Treaties

Despite numerous attempts by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Doha Round of negotiations was never revived – thanks to the staunch stance of third world delegates.

Obama’s solution has been to try to introduce the same draconian corporate protections through two secret treaties, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations for both treaties are being held in total secret. Although 600 corporations have been allowed to see (and write) the both of them, members of Congress and national parliaments are forbidden to see either treaty until they’re signed. Several sections of the TPPA draft have been leaked by Wikileaks. See New Zealand Kicks Off Global Protest Against TPPA

Obama is lobbying for fast track authority on TPPA. Under fast track, the Senate would be forced to vote the treaty up or down without debating its provisions. Congressional Democrats defeated Obama’s efforts to win fast track on TPPA earlier this year. Recently, however, the President expressed confidence a new pro-business Republican Congress will grant him this authority in 2015.


*Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper resigned one week after the WTO protests. He subsequently apologized, in 2009, for excessive and inappropriate use of force by Seattle police. In 2007, a federal jury ruled the city of Seattle was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their constitutional rights. As a result the city awarded a $1 million settlement to the 600+ activists arrested during the 1999 protests.
**The Zapatistas are a Mexican international liberation army founded in 1994 in reaction to the North American Free Trade Act (1994). They control several autonomous areas in rural Chiapas.
***Via Campesina is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities.

New Plymouth Hits the Street

NP TPPAphoto by Moana Williams

Thousands marched in New Zealand’s nationwide mobilization against the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on March 29, with more than a thousand in Auckland, 400 in Wellington, 200 in Hamilton and Nelson, 125 in Whangarei, 100 each in Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin, 80 in Palmerston North and New Plymouth, and 30 in Invercargill. For a small town like New Plymouth, protests this size are rare, and it got good coverage in the Taranaki Daily Newsl

The TPPA is a free trade agreement which is currently 12 countries, including the US and New Zealand, are currently negotiating behind closed doors. Up to this point, the other 11 countries have caved in to US demands that the text of the TPPA be kept secret until it’s signed. About a month ago the Malaysian government  government announced they would release the text before signing it.
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According to draft text released by Wikileaks, the new treaty would allow corporations to sue countries in a private tribunal for any laws that interfere with their ability to do business. In New Zealand, this would undermine our access to cheap generic medication, environmental and labor regulations and reduce Internet freedom.

Like NAFTA and the WTO (World Trade Organization), the TPPA only helps corporations – it’s a pretty shitty deal for ordinary Americans.

C’mon Americans we need your support in stopping Obama from turning the global economy over to Monsanto. Go to http://www.exposethetpp.org/ to find out how you can help.

The Common Misfortunes of Capitalism

cow in streamNote cow in stream

(The 5th of 8 posts about my new life in New Zealand)

Obviously there is both an upside and a downside to living in New Zealand. All developed and developing countries are forced to operate under the same corporate-dominated capitalist system.

New Zealand is no exception and has many of the major economic and social problems other developed countries are experiencing. In a few areas, New Zealand has adopted some of the worst aspects of global capitalism, which results in uniquely negative consequences for the New Zealand public. For the most part, Kiwis retain their commitment to a “democratic socialism” as practiced in most of Europe. The result, in my view, is a society and culture that tends to be far more humane than is found in the US.

That being said, New Zealand shares a number of pernicious social problems found in all modern capitalist countries:

  • Worsening income inequality – only 10% of Kiwis have incomes above $72,000 ($58,216) in US dollars), whereas half the population earns less than $24,000 ($US 19,405).
  • Irrational and blind adherence to a continuous economic growth paradigm. In a small country like New Zealand, this has a devastating impact, in terms of water contamination, habitat destruction and environmental toxins in the food chain. Over the past two decades, dairy intensification has made the most of New Zealand’s picturesque waterways unsuitable for swimming (due to cow shit and fertilizer run-off.
  • Slow uptake of renewable energy production (owing nonexistent finance capital or government subsidies)
  • Slow uptake of sprawl prevention strategies essential to the development of cost-effective public transportation.
  • Heavy corporate media emphasis on stereotypical female roles, resulting in massive pressure on New Zealand women to look young, thin and sexually attractive. Fortunately cosmetic surgery is much less common here than in the US – there aren’t enough Kiwis who can afford it.
  • Factory shut-downs and movement of well-paid union and manufacturing jobs to overseas sweat shops.
  • Massive household debt (146% of disposable income largely owing to chronic low wages).
  • Diets which are excessively dependent on foreign food imports, as opposed to more sustainable reliance on locally and regionally produced food.
  • Factory farming of pigs and chickens. Thanks to the high prevalence of battery hen operations (and constant exposure of chickens to feces), New Zealand enjoys the highest per capita incidence of campylobacter infection in the world.

 

photo credit: Mollivan Jon via photopin cc

10/14/02: The Day I Became an Expatriate

bramhallmemoircover-682x1024.jpg

(The 1st of 8 posts describing my 2002 decision to emigrate from the US to New Zealand)

When I finally left the US in October 2002, I had been thinking of emigrating for many years. In June 1973, I shipped all my belongings to England, intending to start a new life there. Many Americans of my generation left the US in the early seventies, for Canada, Europe and more remote parts of the world. Most were draft-age men afraid of being sent to Vietnam. A few were women involved in clandestine abortion clinics that sprang up before the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Many were artists and intellectuals like me, disillusioned by lies about Vietnam in the Pentagon Papers,  Watergate, CIA domestic spying and Nixon’s use of US intelligence for his own political purposes.

In 1973, I myself was totally apolitical. My own decision to leave the US had very little to do with Vietnam or Watergate. My disillusionment stemmed more from watching rampant consumerism overtake the humanist values I had grown up with – the strong family ties, deep friendships and involvement in neighborhood and community life that were so important to my parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

During my eighteen month stay in England, it was deeply gratifying to meet people in London and Birmingham who had little interest in owning “stuff” they saw advertised on TV. People who still placed much higher value on extended family, close friendships and the sense of belonging they derived from their local pub, their church or union, or neighborhood sports clubs, hobby groups, and community halls. All these civic and community institutions had disappeared in the US. I missed them.

A downturn in the British economy in late 1974 forced me to return to the US to complete my psychiatric training.  I never abandoned my dream of returning overseas and religiously scanned the back pages of medical journals for foreign psychiatric vacancies. Meanwhile I  joined grassroots community organizations seeking to improve political and social conditions in the US. While and

For many years I believed Nixon was an aberration. This made me naively optimistic about the ability of community organizing to thwart the corrupting influence of powerful corporations over federal, state and local government. It never occurred to me the institutions of power themselves were deeply corrupt and had been for many years.

The Murder that Turned My Life Upside Down

As I write in The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee, the 1989 intelligence-linked murder of a patient was a rude awakening. It demonstrated, in the most horrific way possible that ultimate power lay outside America’s democratic institutions. It forced me to accept that political control lay in the hands of a wealthy elite who employed an invisible intelligence-security network to terrorize – and sometimes kill – whistleblowers and activists who threatened their interests. This painful discovery lent new urgency to my political work. It simultaneously caused an increasing sense of alienation and isolation from who hadn’t shared these experiences.

There was also the slight problem that I was experiencing the same phone harassment, stalking, break-ins and hit-and-run attempts as my patient.

Most of my liberal and progressive friends were far more knowledgeable than I was about the power multinationals corporations held over elections, lawmakers and the mainstream media. Yet they reacted very differently than I did to this knowledge. My response was to devote every leisure moment to building a grassroots movement to end corporate rule. Their response, in contrast, was to become cynical and withdraw from political activity to focus on their personal lives.

The Patriot Act: Repealing the Bill of Rights

In September 2001, I expected that the Patriot Act, which legalized domestic spying on American citizens, as well as revoking habeas corpus and other important constitutional liberties, would be the turning point that would send progressives into the streets, as the 1999 anti-WTO protests had, to halt rampant corporate fascism.

It never happened. In Seattle, a small 9-11 coalition formed in October 2001 to protest Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan. Over the following year, as Bush prepared to invade Iraq, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter and others spoke to sell-out crowds about the lie the Bush administration was hawking about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Then in February 2002, evidence began to emerge that officials close to the Bush administration had played some role in engineering the 9-11 attacks. By October 2002, like most American intellectuals with access to the international and/or alternative press, were well aware that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq had played any role whatsoever in the 9-11 attacks. There was no longer any question that Bush a war criminal under international law for launching two unprovoked wars of aggression.

So long as I, as a US taxpayer, continued to work and pay taxes in the US, I shared some responsibility for these crimes. It was this knowledge that ultimately forced my hand. I had a psychiatrist friend who had spent a year working in New Zealand. He told me who to contact in the Ministry of Health about psychiatric vacancies. By September 1, 2002, I had signed a job contract to work for the New Zealand National Health Service in Christchurch. I had six weeks to close my Seattle practice, sell my house and ship everything I owned to New Zealand.

To be continued.

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bramhallmemoircover-682x1024.jpg
Winner 2011 Allbooks Review Editor’s Choice Award
Fifteen years of intense government harassment leads a psychiatrist, single mother and political activist to close her 25-year Seattle practice to begin a new life in New Zealand. What starts as phone harassment, stalking and illegal break-ins quickly progresses to six attempts on her life and an affair with an undercover agent who railroads her into a psychiatric hospital.
  • Available as ebook (all formats) for $0.99 from: Smashwords
  • New and used print copies from $13 from Amazon

Honoring the Real Nelson Mandela

mandela

In “The Mandela Barbie,” BBC journalist and investigative reporter Greg Palast’s eulogy of Nelson Mandela provides a rare breath of sanity in the media stampede to remake a legendary Marxist revolutionary into an icon of free market capitalism. According to Palast, “The ruling class creates commemorative dolls and statues of revolutionary leaders as a way to tell us their cause is won, so go home.”

Al Jazeera America also offers a fairly balanced assessment of Mandela’s accomplishments. In “Mandela Sought Balance Between Socialism and Capitalism,” Martin O’Neill and Thad Williamson acknowledge that Mandela and the African National Congress totally failed to deliver on economic provisions – freedom from poverty, genuine equality of opportunity and a fair share of national wealth – in the ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter. They also note that despite the advent of majority rule, poverty and living standards are much worse for black South Africans under the ANC.

I frankly expected Democracy Now, the Nation, Mother Jones and other “alternative” media outlets to do a better job of distinguishing between superficial ballot box democracy and the genuine freedom that can only come from true economic democracy. Instead they were all happy to ape CNN and the New York Times in celebrating the cosmetic reforms masking the reality of brutal South African living conditions.

Naomi Klein and The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein has an excellent chapter on the Freedom Charter and South Africa’s worsening economic apartheid in her bestselling 2007 The Shock Doctrine. In “Born in Chains: South Africa’s Constricted Freedom,” she offers a blow by blow description of the secret negotiations between the ANC and the outgoing apartheid regime. In her view, the ANC was clearly outmaneuvered at the negotiating table. This happened in part due to political naïveté, in part due to the threat of civil war (the South African police were continuing to massacre ANC leaders and white industrialists were arming black gangs to terrorize the black townships), and in part due to the ANC’s misplaced confidence in Thabo Mbeke, a London-trained admirer of Margaret Thatcher (who would succeed Mandela as president in 1998).

The Trap of “Trickle Down” Economics

The economic package Mbeke accepted at the negotiating table contained standard “trickle down” provisions aimed at attracting foreign investment, in the hope economic benefits would “trickle down” to the black townships. Among its provisions were

  1. establishment of a private, independent (unaccountable) central bank to issue and control South Africa’s money supply. This was a classic Chicago School neoliberal move the ANC took against the advice of their economic adviser Vishnu Padayachee. When Padayachee subsequently learned that the white finance ministers from the apartheid regime would run both the central bank and the treasury, he knew the economic provisions of the Freedom Charter could never be enacted and refused to serve in the ANC government.
  2. an agreement to honor the $14 billion IMF debt the apartheid government had racked up.
  3. an agreement to sign onto the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (GATT), the precursor to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  4. an agreement to guarantee (and pre-pay) lifelong pensions of former white officials under the apartheid regime.

Because the apartheid regime and Mbeke minimized these economic concessions as merely “technical” and “administrative,” they received no serious examination by either the media or ANC loyalists. Only in 1994, after ANC leaders assumed positions in government, did they recognize this economic stranglehold left them with no real power.

Between 1994 and 1996, the ANC government attempted to make good on the Freedom Charter’s promises of wealth redistribution through government investment in 100,000 new homes and subsidies to connect millions of households to water, electricity and phone services. In the end, however, mounting government debt forced the ANC to raise rents and utility prices, as well as evicting families and cutting off services when poor residents couldn’t make their payments.

A Missed Opportunity

Once the threat of civil war abated, Klein feels the ANC missed a historic opportunity to launch a second liberation struggle against economic apartheid. Instead, under the neoliberal stranglehold of an independent central bank, the IMF and the WTO, the economic welfare of black South Africans steadily worsened. Instead of creating new jobs, the ANC was forced to shut down hundreds of auto plants and textile factories because of WTO rules outlawing government subsidization of manufacturing. They were also required to abide by WTO intellectual property rules which prevented them from providing generic drugs to millions of AIDS patients.

Poverty and Living Conditions Worse Under ANC

After three decades, there is no longer any doubt that neoliberal trickle down economics benefits wealthy corporations at the expense of people and always increases income inequality. South Africa is no exception. As Klein notes, the effects of economic apartheid were already brutally clear after only twelve years under a majority black government. By 2006

  • the number of South Africans living on less than $1 per day had doubled (from 2 million to 4 million) under the ANC.
  • unemployment among black south Africans had more than doubled, from 23-48%.
  • close to 1 million people had been evicted from farms under the ANC.
  • despite the 1.8 million new homes build by the ANC, 2 million black South African had lost their homes.

The Shock Doctrine is available digitally at TheShockDoctrine.pdf

Klein’s website also has links to some of the source documents she used in compiling her chapter on economic apartheid Shock Doctrine Resources

Originally published in Dissident Voice

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I’m really stoked this morning that my new $3.99 ebook A Rebel Comes of Age has been nominated for a Global Ebook Award. Purchase link (all formats): A Rebel of Age

nominee sticker

I’m even more pleased to learn it’s been pirated by at least five Torrent download sites. None of my earlier books have been pirated, so I should be flattered, right?