If you liked the self-regulation that let Wall Street and big banks bring the global economy to the brink of collapse, you'll love the self-regulation that lets Monsanto destroy the global food supply.
For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world's biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government's deregulation process.
This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.
Genetically engineered and modified crops continue to cause controversy across the globe, but in America they are a fact of life. The Obama and Bush administrations have actively promoted biotech agriculture both at home and abroad. Countries like China, Argentina and Brazil have also embraced biotech agriculture. Regulators in European countries - including crucial trade partners like France and Spain - have been much more cautious and, in some cases, even hostile toward the industry. GE crops are banned in Hungary and Peru, and earlier this year officials in Hungary destroyed 1,000 acres of corn containing Monsanto transgenes. The US, however, continues to allow big biotech companies to cultivate considerable power and influence and, as the letters uncovered by FOIA reveal, top regulators are ready to meet their demands.
"The USDA regards its own regulatory system as a rubber stamp," Freese said after reading the letters. "At least at the upper levels, there's always been this presumption that [GE crops] must be approved."
If genetically-modified organisms were self-contained, existing next to natural organisms without affecting them, the only issue would be ensuring that proper labeling informs consumers about the food they are buying.
But the fact is that GMO plants and animals eliminate their natural counterparts, infecting and taking them over, so that soon there will be no alternatives to GMO food. And then it will be too late to regulate it.
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It's easy to salute and say Yes Sir. It's too hard to regulate, investigate and prosecute.[...]
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For instance, David Koch donated $1,000,000 to the Republican Governor's Association on February 1, 2012, which coincidentally was the same day Governor Walker signed a bill into law expanding the "open enrollment" period for public schools which is all part of the effort to turn Wisconsin public schools into a "free market." The Koch-funded MacIver Institute crowed all over the lovely "free education market," thanks to Scott Walker. Also on that day, Democrats revealed three candidates running against Wisconsin state senators up for recall. While it's unclear that the million donated was for Scott Walker, I note that Scott Walker is the only guy in need of the billionaire backing at this particular moment in time.
Scott Walker's out-of-state support has been remarkable. Out of the $4.5 million he raised in the first quarter of 2012, nearly $4 million came from out-of-state donors in the five-week period before the limits on donations for the recall kicked in, and most donors were boys sitting at the Billionaire Boys' Club table. Here are a few notable out-of-state names, industries and donation amounts:
Wealthy Wisconsinites ponied up, too. Here are a few:
, a Denver investment company
Walker has a lot of money in his war chest with the promise of more where that came from. After all, those out-of-state donations come from a short list of right-wing insiders, some Koch and others not. Assume there are plenty more where that came from and they're not afraid to spend it to keep him in that governor's mansion. Phone banks, dirty ads, mailers, and the full faith and credit of Koch-based organizations like Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks will keep Walker fully supplied with the ground troops to wage his war.
It will take all of the 99 percent to push back and win against Walker.
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It is America and NOT China that has been embracing tyranny, lawlessness and injustice. And how China has embraced the economic benefits of most to the majority of it's citizens, where as we here have only been making life better for the elites.[...]
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We've heard the fine pianist Ralf Gothóni accompanying baritone Jorma Hynninen in the opening song, "Gute Nacht" ("Good Night") of Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey). Here he plays the first movement of the Brahms A major Piano Quartet (with the repeat) with violinist Ana Chumachenco, violist Ara Gregorian, and cellist Robert Cohen, at Helsinki Spring Light Chamber Music 2010.
For those who missed Friday night's preview, "Sunny and mellow -- it's Brahms in the key of A," we're finally getting to the second of Brahms's piano quartets, the A major, which was my originally intended subject last September when I started out with a preview highlighting the contrast between it and the first, the G minor, but by Sunday's post had shifted to the G minor Quartet.
As you may guess from the consecutive opus numbers, 25 and 26, these piano quartets were actually conceived in the same outsize burst of inspiration, in another instance of a composer feeling it not only possible but necessary to vent consecutively or overlappingly or even simultaneously contrasting aspects of his musical personality. The classic case for me remains the pair of Beethoven symphonies I've described as musical "fraternal twins," the fatefully volcanic No. 5 and eco-inspirational No. 6 (the Pastoral).
The G minor was the first of the Brahms piano quartets that I came to really love, and I don't think I'm alone there -- though nobody has established himself as a more devoted fan of the piece than Arnold Schoenberg, whose orchestration, at once faithfully Brahmsian and over-the-top Schoenbergian, has understandably become an enormously popular concert piece, perhaps living up after all to his stated hope of conjuring with it a fifth Brahms symphony. I don't love the G minor Quartet any less than ever, but I noticed somewhere along the line that my top allegiance had gradually shifted to the more subtly arresting A major.
JUST TO RECAP . . .
In Friday night's preview we focused on the very opening of the A major Quartet, via four very different performances, from which we then heard the entire exposition section of the first movement from those same performances.
For today's recap I thought we would start by isolating the three principal themes.
BRAHMS: Piano Quartet No. 2 in A, Op. 26:
1st movement -- principal themes
Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Guarneri Quartet members (Arnold Steinhardt, violin; Michael Tree, viola; David Soyer, cello). RCA/BMG, recorded Dec. 27, 1967
Now let's hear how these themes fit into the expositio. (Actually, this is as much of this disappointing performance as I want to hear. I was never much of a fan of the Guarneri Quartet, though I came around a little in the quartet's later years. Certainly they didn't bring out the best in Arthur Rubinstein, in this marriage-made-by-record-company-contracts, and the set of the Brahms piano quartets has always seemed to me on the bloated and plodding side. While we're on the subject, immense as is my regard for the Brahmsian credentials of Isaac Stern, I would also advise steering clear of the Stern and Friends piano quartets, in good part owing to the relentlessly plodding piano-playing of "Manny the Butcher" Ax.)
1st movement exposition
[1st theme at start, 2nd theme at 1:52, 3rd theme at 4:26] Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Guarneri Quartet members (Arnold Steinhardt, violin; Michael Tree, viola; David Soyer, cello). RCA/BMG, recorded Dec. 27, 1967
FOR OUR TOUR OF THE BRAHMS
A MAJOR PIANO TRIO, CLICK HERE
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As you might have heard, Romney's latest campaign slogan is 'Obama isn't working'. This appears to be both a reference to the famous 'Labour isn't Working' slogan created by the brothers Saatchi for the 1979 Conservative campaign in the UK, and a none-too-subtle dog whistle to remind voters of a common racist stereotype (i.e., the black man doesn't work).
The Saatchi slogan was also a double entendre. It pointed to the fact that UK unemployment had reached over a million under Labour, and the country had been crippled by strikes for months, the so-called 'winter of discontent'. It was a powerful slogan because it reminded voters of the two facts that were central to the Tory campaign.
While the Romney campaign is also attempting a double entendre, neither meaning is likely to resonate outside the Conservative base. Most voters remember that the recession started under the Bush administration (that didn't stop Romney from trying to blame President Obama for a factor that was closed under Bush). Claiming that Obama has not done enough to clean up the mess made by the last Republican President does not have quite the same punch as pointing to the collapse of British manufacturing under Labour.
There is also the fact that voters don't (at least not yet) seem to think Romney has any better economic expertise than Obama. A recent MSNBC poll found that there was essentially no difference between voters assessment of Romney and Obama on the economy. The Romney slogan might even backfire if people consider the Thatcher government as precedent: 18 months after the 1979 election, UK unemployment hit three million as the country's manufacturing base was destroyed and Britain became a net importer of manufactured goods for the first time since the industrial revolution.
The dog whistle aspect of the slogan might also backfire. Does it really make sense for a man who left business in 1999 and hasn't had a real job since 2007, because he's so rich he doesn't need to work, to accuse the President of being lazy?
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In 2008, I wrote a piece for Salon about renaming ?Earth? Day. It was supposed to be mostly humorous. Or mostly serious.
Anyway, the subject of renaming Earth Day seems more relevant than ever in light of our inaction on climate change, the over-running of Congress by climate zombies, and Bill McKibben?s book, Eaarth.
In a 2009 interview, our Nobel-prize winning Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, said:
I would say that from here on in, every day has to be Earth Day.
Well, duh! Heck, we have a whole day just for the trees ? and we haven?t finished them off ? yet. If every day is Earth Day, than April 22 definitely needs a new name. So I?m updating the column, with yet another idea at the end, at least for climate science advocates:
I don?t worry about the earth. I?m pretty certain the earth will survive the worst we can do to it. I?m very certain the earth doesn?t worry about us. I?m not alone. People got more riled up when scientists removed Pluto from the list of planets than they do when scientists warn that our greenhouse gas emissions are poised to turn the earth into a barely habitable planet.
Arguably, concern over the earth is elitist, something people can afford to spend their time on when every other need is met. But elitism is out these days. We need a new way to make people care about the nasty things we?re doing with our cars and power plants. At the very least, we need a new name.
How about Nature Day or Environment Day? Personally, I am not an environmentalist. I don?t think I?m ever going to see the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I wouldn?t drill for oil there. But that?s not out of concern for the caribou but for my daughter and the planet?s next several billion people, who will need to see oil use cut sharply to avoid the worst of climate change.
I used to worry about the polar bear. But then some naturalists told me that once human-caused global warming has mostly eliminated their feeding habitat — the polar ice, probably by the 2020s — polar bears will just go about the business of coming inland and attacking humans and eating our food and maybe even us. That seems only fair, no?
I am a cat lover, but you can?t really worry about them. Cats are survivors. Remember the movie ?Alien?? For better or worse, cats have hitched their future to humans, and while we seem poised to wipe out half the species on the planet, cats will do just fine.
Apparently there are some plankton that thrive on an acidic environment, so it doesn?t look like we?re going to wipe out all life in the ocean, just most of it. Sure, losing Pacific salmon is going to be a bummer, but I eat Pacific salmon several times a week, so I don?t see how I?m in a position to march on the nation?s capital to protest their extinction. I won?t eat farm-raised salmon, though, since my doctor says I get enough antibiotics from the tap water.
If thousands of inedible species can?t adapt to our monomaniacal quest to return every last bit of fossil carbon back into the atmosphere, why should we care? Other species will do just fine, like kudzu, cactus, cockroaches, rats, scorpions, the bark beetle, Anopheles mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they harbor. Who are we to pick favorites?
I didn?t hear any complaining after the dinosaurs and many other species were wiped out when an asteroid hit the earth and made room for mammals and, eventually, us. If God hadn?t wanted us to dominate all living creatures on the earth, he wouldn?t have sent that asteroid in the first place, and he wouldn?t have turned the dead plants and animals into fossil carbon that could power our Industrial Revolution, destroy the climate, and ultimately kill more plants and animals.
All of these phrases create the misleading perception that the cause so many of us are fighting for — sharp cuts in greenhouse gases — is based on the desire to preserve something inhuman or abstract or far away. But I have to say that all the environmentalists I know — and I tend to hang out with the climate crowd — care about stopping global warming because of its impact on humans, even if they aren?t so good at articulating that perspective. I?m with them.
The reason that many environmentalists fight to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the polar bears is not because they are sure that losing those things would cause the universe to become unhinged, but because they realize that humanity isn?t smart enough to know which things are linchpins for the entire ecosystem and which are not. What is the straw that breaks the camel?s back? The 100th species we wipe out? The 1,000th? For many, the safest and wisest thing to do is to try to avoid the risks entirely.
This is where I part company with many environmentalists. With 6.5 billion people going to 9 billion, much of the environment is unsavable. But if we warm significantly more than 3.5°F from pre-industrial levels — and especially if we warm more than 7°F, as would be all but inevitable if we keep on our current emissions path for much longer — then the environment and climate that made modern human civilization possible will be ruined, probably for hundreds of years (see NOAA stunner: Climate change ?largely irreversible for 1000 years,? with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe). And that means misery for many if not most of the next 10 to 20 billion people to walk the planet.
So I think the world should be more into conserving the stuff that we can?t live without. In that regard I am a conservative person. Unfortunately, Conservative Day would, I think, draw the wrong crowds.
The problem with Earth Day is it asks us to save too much ground. We need to focus. The two parts of the planet worth fighting to preserve are the soils and the glaciers.
Two years ago, Science magazine published research that ?predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest? — levels of soil aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas and Oklahoma to California. The Hadley Center, the U.K.?s official center for climate change research, found that ?areas affected by severe drought could see a five-fold increase from 8% to 40%.? On our current emissions path, most of the South and Southwest ultimately experience twice as much loss of soil moisture as was seen during the Dust Bowl (see “Dust-Bowlification“).
Also, locked away in the frozen soil of the tundra or permafrost is more carbon than the atmosphere contains today (see Tundra, Part 1). On our current path, most of the top 10 feet of the permafrost will be lost this century — so much for being ?perma? — and that amplifying carbon-cycle feedback will all but ensure that today?s worst-case scenarios for global warming become the best-case scenarios (see NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100). We must save the tundra. Perhaps it should be small ?e? earth Day, which is to say, Soil Day. On the other hand, most of the public enthusiasm in the 1980s for saving the rain forests fizzled, and they are almost as important as the soil, so maybe not Soil Day.
As for glaciers, when they disappear, sea levels rise, perhaps as much as two inches a year by century?s end (see ?Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100? and here). If we warm even 3°C from pre-industrial levels, we will return the planet to a time when sea levels were ultimately 100 feet higher (see Science: CO2 levels haven?t been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5° to 10°F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher: ?We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm.?). The first five feet of sea level rise, which seems increasingly likely to occur this century on our current emissions path, would displace more than 100 million people. That would be the equivalent of 200 Katrinas. Since my brother lost his home in Katrina, I don?t consider this to be an abstract issue.
Equally important, the inland glaciers provide fresh water sources for more than a billion people. But on our current path, virtually all of them will be gone by century?s end.
So where is everyone going to live? Hundreds of millions will flee the new deserts, but they can?t go to the coasts; indeed, hundreds of millions of other people will be moving inland. But many of the world?s great rivers will be drying up at the same time, forcing massive conflict among yet another group of hundreds of millions of people. The word rival, after all, comes from ?people who share the same river.? Sure, desalination is possible, but that?s expensive and uses a lot of energy, which means we?ll need even more carbon-free power.
Perhaps Earth Day should be Water Day, since the worst global warming impacts are going to be about water — too much in some places, too little in other places, too acidified in the oceans for most life. But even soil and water are themselves only important because they sustain life. We could do Pro-Life Day, but that term is already taken, and again it would probably draw the wrong crowd.
We could call it Homo sapiens Day. Technically, we are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. Isn?t it great being the only species that gets to name all the species, so we can call ourselves ?wise? twice! But given how we have been destroying the planet?s livability, I think at the very least we should drop one of the sapiens. And, perhaps provisionally, we should put the other one in quotes, so we are Homo ?sapiens,? at least until we see whether we are smart enough to save ourselves from self-destruction.
What the day — indeed, the whole year — should be about is not creating misery upon misery for our children and their children and their children, and on and on for generations (see ?Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme??). Ultimately, stopping climate change is not about preserving the earth or creation but about preserving ourselves. Yes, we can?t preserve ourselves if we don?t preserve a livable climate, and we can?t preserve a livable climate if we don?t preserve the earth. But the focus needs to stay on the health and well-being of billions of humans because, ultimately, humans are the ones who will experience the most prolonged suffering. And if enough people come to see it that way, we have a chance of avoiding the worst.
We have fiddled like Nero for far too long to save the whole earth or all of its species. Now we need a World War II scale effort just to cut our losses and save what matters most. So let?s call it Triage Day. And if worse comes to worst ? yes, if worse comes to worst ? at least future generations won?t have to change the name again.
As a penultimate thought, I suspect that many environmentalists and climate science advocates will have their own, private name: ?I told you so? Day. Not as a universal as ?Triage Day,? I admit, but it has a Cassandra-like catchiness, no?
Finally, perhaps we should call it ?science day.? We don?t have a day dedicated to celebrating science, and don?t we deserve one whole day free from the non-stop disinformation of the anti-science crowd?
As always, I?m open to better ideas?.
The progressive case for Originalism
[Living Originalism] allows [liberals] to claim that the Constitution belongs to [them]. It's not something that [just] belongs to people who dress up in tricorner hats and appear at Tea Party rallies. [...] Liberals have to reclaim the Constitution as their Constitution. To do that, they have to say, it's my text, it's my tradition, it's my connection to the [Founders.] It's my structure of government [the Constitution] that promotes what I think is right. -- Professor Jack BalkinIn his book Living Originalism, Professor Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School, has brought forth his thesis of an understanding of our Constitution that is both faithful to its intended original purpose and consistent with progressive values. Professor Balkin rejects as a "false choice" the view that one must pick between seeing the Constitution as a "Living Document" or being faithful to its original intent. In fact, he believes authentic originalism requires a belief in both.
On April 27 and 28, Yale will hold a conference discussing these ideas. It will have an all-star legal cast as well as some all-star legal journalists. Professor Balkin was kind enough to talk with Adam Bonin and me about his book, the upcoming conference, Living Originalism, constitutional interpretation, politics and the Supreme Court. A report on the conversation on the flip.