Nel's New Day

December 13, 2013

Push Back at Monsanto

The island of Hawaii has emerged victorious over a monster corporation: Mayor Billy Kenoi signed a bill last week that prevents biotech companies from operating on the island and bans any new genetically-altered crops other than papaya. In October Mexico banned, on an interim basis, planting genetically-engineered corn; last July Italy became the ninth European country to ban Monsanto’s GMO corn.

Europe is so unwelcoming that Monsanto has pulled eight of its nine pending applications with the European Commission. The company plans to continue its conventional seed business there and will try to renew approval to cultivate the one GM corn variety commercially grown in Europe. Its original application, approved in 1998, was the last one to be accepted there.

Millions of small-scale farmers in Africa have repeatedly objected to using GMO crops and want their governments to ban them. Traditional African farming systems developed a diversity of seed varieties to deal with farming challenges. Seeds have been bred for flavor and nutrition as well as adaptation to different soils and weather patterns, a far better system than GMOs. Another problem for African farmers is that saving Monsanto’s GMO seed is illegal while 80 percent of African farmers save seed that they have bred.

Monsanto, the producer of the killer defoliant Agent Orange with annual overall sales of $14.86 billion, claims that the corporation is “a sustainable agriculture company,” but Southeast Asia disagrees. Genetically-modified seeds destroy the soil while demanding repurchasing because of the renewable traits. Since 1995, 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after insurmountable debt derived from Monsanto’s cotton. Many farmers killed themselves from pesticides intended for their crops. Part of the debt came from Monsanto’s unbelievable increase for a kilogram of cotton seeds from 7 to 17,000 rupees in just the year 2009.

GMO cotton cannot be intercropped with food crops, requires irrigation instead of being rain-fed, creates new pests demanding 13 times more pesticides than the traditional cotton, and fails to meet the claims of 1500/kg/year when farmers were able to harvest only 300-400/kg/year.

Another problem waiting to happen is the “golden rice,” a genetically-engineered variety designed to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). Millions of dollars have been spent to develop this instead of solutions such as food supplements and fortification. “Golden rice” can easily contaminate non-GE rice, and traditional and organic rice farmers will lose their markets, especially export markets. Any unexpected hazardous effects could put people and food security at risk in countries around the world. For example, a diet based solely on rice could make malnutrition worse. When researchers fed the experimental “golden rice” to children in China, they failed to tell parents what their children were eating.

Europe is denying the applications with good cause. More and more evidence is emerging that Roundup, Monsanto’s top-selling pesticide destroys vital human intestinal bacteria and contributes to rapid increase of food allergies and serious human diseases including cancer, autism, neurological disorders , Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Children and elderly people are most susceptible to this poisoning.

Pigs fed GMO corn and soy feed had a notably higher rate of severe stomach inflammation, according to a recent study. Rats fed GMO corn died prematurely after developing tumors. A 2012 French study regarding these tumors, an investigation into the “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” was published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

As soon as the study was published, Monsanto raised concerns of bias and choice of rats. Although the researchers stand by their study, Wallace Hayes, editor-in-chief of the publishing journal retracted the study. An exhaustive investigation of the study resulted in no findings of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of data, but that the study was inconclusive. It is to be noted that the journal that retracted the study had recently appointed biologist Richard Goodman as associate editor. Goodman worked for Monsanto for seven years and has a history of supporting GMOs.

In the late 1990s, the scientist Marc Lappé, found that Monsanto’s claims that the increase of yields from their technology was highly overstated. After he wrote Against the Grain, Monsanto threated the publishers if they were to release the book. A year ago Monsanto bought out Beeologics, which had been concerned with studying and protecting bees from “colony collapse disorder.”

Insects are becoming far more resistant to GMOs, requiring the use of more and more pesticides. Sales of corn insecticide doubled in 2012 because of the rootworm resistance in the U.S.  The EPA recently raised the permitted levels of Roundup residue on grains and vegetables to more dangerous levels because of the growing resistance.

Last summer the World Food Prize Foundation awarded a Monsanto executive the “Nobel Price of food” for creating GMOs. The award is given to “outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world.” In 2008 Monsanto gave $5 million to the foundation making the award, which favors industrial agricultural. Maintaining seed diversity and promoting healthy soil ecology are essential to “real food security” and a strategy more than worthy of recognition.

Farmers achieved a victory against Monsanto last summer after a court ordered the corporation to not sue farmers for patent infringement as they discover GE contamination. With that decision, farmers can now sue Monsanto for damages in a contamination problem without being concerned about a countersuit of patent infringement. A possible case is the discovers of Monsanto wheat in a crop, wheat that was discontinued several years ago.

Maine, along with Connecticut, has passed a GMO labeling law. There isn’t much chance of these laws going into effect, though, because they have three caveats:

  • Four other Northeastern states must enact legislation.
  • One must border Connecticut/Maine (respectively).
  • The four Northeastern states must have a combined population of at least 20 million.

Maine’s law requires one from New Hampshire; Connecticut can use Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts (which contains one of the world’s leading biotechnology hubs), and Rhode Island. All these states must pass the same law to reach the population unless New York decides to opt in.

Between 60 and 70 percent of all food sold in the United States is genetically engineered, but none of these foods is labeled as such. In last November’s election, Washington state came close to passing a law that would require food labeling of GMO products. Although 93 percent of the people in the United States support food labeling, the $22 million for anti-labeling advertising swung the vote in Washington at the last minute. Sixty-four nations, including all of Europe, have labeling requirements. The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) is now planning to block labeling across the United States through federal law.

Much has been written about secret surveillance since Edward Snowden released records from the National Security Agency. Most people don’t know that corporations such as Monsanto and Wal-Mart also spy on activists and non-profit groups with little fear of retribution. These companies employ former CIA, NSA, FBI, military, and police officers to monitor and infiltrate groups critical of the corporations. According to a report from Essential Information:

“Many different types of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing-home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.”

Monsanto has purchased many members of Congress who try to pass amendments preventing state labeling laws and anti-lawsuit measures regarding Monsanto to the farm bill. Earlier this year under the guidance of former Monsanto lawyer Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO, the House passed the Monsanto Protection Act that allowed crops with GMO seeds to be planted and sold, regardless of a judicial order.

Fortunately, Congress seems incapable of passing almost any laws. Sending the budget bill to the Senate, once pro forma, was considered a miracle this past week. Let’s hope that Congress continues its pattern of  “first, do no harm.”

November 9, 2013

November Moves LGBT Rights Forward

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:08 PM
Tags: , , , ,

The month of November is not even one-third gone, and the news of LGBT acceptance across the country has been amazing:

  • Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), candidate for the state’s governor, came out as gay after his opposition started a “whisper” smear campaign about his sexual orientation.
  • Across the country, 54 LGBT candidates won, including the candidates for mayors of Houston and Seattle.
  • Shortly after his Tuesday win for Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe pledged to ban discrimination against LGBT state employees.
  • A federal judge upheld New Jersey’s law banning gay conversion therapy for minors, and Washington, D.C. is working on a similar law.

Around the world, Ireland is making a move toward marriage equality, and the First Lady of Zambia called for an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The most publicized movement toward LGBT rights in the past week was the Senate passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for the first time in 17 years. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) first introduced ENDA in the Senate two years earlier. Before he died in 2009, he asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)—one of my senators!—to continue the effort.

Thirty-two GOP senators opposed the bill that could end employment discrimination in the 60 percent of the states that can legally discriminate against LGBT workers. Ten other Republicans voted in favor of the proposed law, and three GOP senators failed to vote. ENDA adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the job-protected categories of age, disability, gender, race, and religion.

Some House Republicans such as Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) are smart enough to know that the GOP needs to show more tolerance. He would be willing to support the law, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has promised to keep the bill from a vote in that chamber.

“No one should face discrimination in the workforce,” Boehner claimed in April when he asserted that LGBT people are already protected in their jobs:

“There are ample laws already in place to deal with this. Having been the chairman of the Education & Workforce Committee, I’m quite familiar with employment law.”

The majority of voters support legislation that protects LGBT workers from discrimination. Polls also show that many people wrongly believe that laws protect LGBT people on the job. No federal law or regulation prevents employers from firing LGBT workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Firing or discriminating against LGBT people is legal in 29 states; firing or discriminating against transgender people is legal in 33 states. You can look at your state laws here. Below is a map showing support for a law that Boehner refuses to take to the House.

ENDAStates-555x526

Jonathan Pacheco and his boyfriend couldn’t even shop at Walmart in Chickasha (OK). An employee, identified as a janitor, told them, “It is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” before telling the two men that they weren’t allowed to be in the store.

Pundits have made very strange objections to ENDA:

ENDA is unprincipled and confers special rights. So wrote Ryan T. Anderson in a National Review op-ed that rambled through bigoted excuses ending with the problem of bathrooms, used a half century ago when discussing the Equal Rights Amendment.

ENDA is unnecessary and unpopular. So wrote Ralph Reed in USA Today when he talked about the bill “violating an employee’s right to privacy.” He concluded, “The number of discrimination actions in states that prohibit hiring decisions based on sexual preference is miniscule [sic], suggesting it doesn’t require federal policing.” Actually, between 15 and 43 percent of LGB people have experienced workplace discrimination or harassment, and between 8 and 17 percent have been hired or fired due to their sexual orientation. Up to 41 percent of LGB employees have experienced anti-gay harassment or abuse in the workplace. That number soars up to 90 percent for trans people.

ENDA will make gay people boring. So wrote Patrick Howley in the Daily Caller after he described his own possible homosexuality in a several hundred words. He then sneered at LGBT people and described ENDA as “another anti-business piece of legislation that allows self-identified cultural victims to sue their employers after they get fired.”

The newest right is approaching in Hawaii. Despite far-right protests, the Senate passed a marriage equality bill. An amended bill passed in the House will return to the Senate. If the Senate passes the amended bill, the governor has promised to sign it. Ironically, the possibility of Hawaii legalizing same-sex marriage 20 years ago goaded Congress into passing DOMA, which was the law of the land for 17 years until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of it last June. Hawaii’s governor Neil Abercrombie used the SCOTUS decision to make marriage equality in the state a priority to give same-sex couples federal rights.

The Senate opened up its hearing to over 1,000 public comments.Over 5,000 people signed up to address the bill in the House, many of them to delay the vote. IDs were required after people testified on behalf of others and used fake names to get more than one turn. Some people tried to use proxies in an attempt to make the testimony against the bill overwhelming, causing the House to make new rules. Only people with a valid registration number and ID can speak to a bill.

Hawaii police union president Tenari Maafala, an active duty officer, told legislators they would have to “kill” him before he would ever enforce same-sex marriage. He added that denying gay couples the right to marry is not discrimination if it’s against one’s beliefs.

Some Hawaiians tearfully claimed that legalized same-sex marriages would destroy their culture. Historians, however, said that the island did not have the modern marriage before European settlement and that the native people then accepted homosexuality.

The House considered 29 amendments showing such fears about marriage equality as these:

  • Tourists might stop coming from Asia.
  • Sex ed curricula might include same-sex couples or even say that heterosexual relationships are not healthy.
  • People might have to provide lodging to same-sex couples—a requirement already in law.
  • Churches might not be able to discriminate against the LGBT community.

Hawaii-Rep.-Jo-JordanIn a first, openly lesbian Rep. Jo Jordan (D) voted against the bill. No other openly LGBT lawmaker has voted against marriage equality, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. In her district, 75 percent of voters support marriage equality. Jordan said, however, that she had to represent the entire state. A statewide polling shows a 55-percent majority support for legalized same-sex marriage.

Almost 1,000 people spoke before the House passed the bill by 30-19.

A lawsuit has already been filed to slow the ability of same-sex couples to marry even if it becomes law. The people voted for a constitutional amendment asking if legislature could reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. The state government and attorney general agree that the legislature can then legalize marriage equality. State Rep. Bob McDermott is going to the state circuit courts with the theory that people didn’t understand what their vote meant. His position is opposite from anti-marriage equality supporters in California who argued that the will of the people was absolute.

McDermott also worries that marriage equality will force Dick and Jane books to show Dick and Dick or Jane and Jane. Rep. Gene Ward (R) worried about “mama bears” threatened by a penis entering an anus. (What is with this GOP preoccupation with sex!?)  

Marriage equality in Hawaii has had a long 20-year journey since the state Supreme Court ruled that refusing a marriage license to Ninia Aehr and Genora Dancel was discriminatory and illegal. The Senate plans to finish the journey on Tuesday when it takes up the House’s amended bill. If the bill is passed and marriage equality is not blocked in the courts, same-sex marriages can begin December 2 of this year, and Hawaii becomes the 16th state in the union to recognize marriage equality.

Yesterday during the debate in the House, a rainbow appeared over the state capitol building.

rainbow hawaii

October 30, 2013

Marriage Equality: Pro & Con

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:12 PM
Tags: , ,

After the New Jersey Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the state, Hawaii is using a special session called by the governor to tread the waters of legalized marriage equality. The rift between conservatives and progressives is building.

The Hawaii Senate has passed SB1 legalizing marriage equality by a 20-4 vote and sent it to the House. The House Republicans, however, want to remove the one GOP member in the legislature who supports the law from the 13-member Judiciary Committee before a final reading that would send the bill to the House. GOP Rep. Cynthia Thielen said, “I support marriage equality. I may be the sole Republican in our minority caucus that does … but I can guarantee I’m not the sole Republican in our community who does.”

At least, 1,800 people signed up to testify about the bill when it was in the Senate panel, causing Senator Clayton Hee to limit statements to one minute. Attorney General David Louie spoke in favor of the bill but acknowledged that a same-sex couple from Hawaii who married in California would get the federal benefits created by last summer’s Supreme Court ruling as if Hawaii legalized marriage equality. Republican Sam Slom, one of the nay votes on the Senate panel, said that people could go to California frequently enough that they could just marry there. Back to same-sex marriage for the elite.

Gary Secor, who represents the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii, worried about “the potentially negative sociological impact such relationships may eventually have on society.” The others who opposed marriage equality used religious reasons, at one time reciting “The Lord’s Prayer.” Testimony also argued that the bill was pushed by those outside the state and would harm Native Hawaiians. The testifier who compared marriage equality supporters to Nazi Germany, stating that a vocal minority was trying to exert their view over a silent majority, failed to mention that the opponents to the bill were very vocal. Or that gays and lesbians were many times persecuted and killed in Nazi death camps.

The Mormons, who claimed after they played a big part in passing California’s Proposition 8 banning marriage equality, have returned, sending anti-LGBT marriage letters to their Hawaiian local ward congregations to be read to the faithful in the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Those objecting to marriage equality can get some help directly from LGBT people. A New York Times article interviewed some couples who are also opposed to same-sex couples. Together for 18 years, Brian Blatz, 47, and Dan Davis, 58, see no point in marrying because “it isn’t going to change anything in terms of how we feel about each other.”

Other opposition comes from those who believe that as an outdated institution, marriage forces same-sex couples into the mainstream or that it creates financial burdens and legal entanglements. Sean Fader, 34, views marriage as “this oppressive Christian model.” Feminists perceive marriage as historically oppressive. Stephanie Schroeder and Lisa Haas say that marriage privileges couples and stigmatizes single people. John D’Emilio thinks same-sex marriage is elitist; his partner of 32 years, Jim Oleson, has been married and has no interest in doing it again. Still others fear they may have to pay higher taxes if they are married.

Before federal legalized marriage equality, gays and lesbians protested civil unions as “feel-good marriages,” Larry Kramer’s description. After the Supreme Court decision, he married David Webster in July.

A valid objection to the fight for marriage equality is that it was done at the expense of other issues such as AIDS prevention and non-discrimination in employment and housing. Emilio said, “After people with good health insurance could have treatment for H.I.V., the community sort of abandoned AIDS as a priority.”

One issue being addressed—again—is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring up the bill next week with the support of all 54 Democrats and at least four Republicans. GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Mark Kirk are co-sponsoring the legislation, and GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch and Lisa Murkowski voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee. Sen. Rob Portman (OH) said he is “inclined to support” the bill, and other senators targeted by advocates include Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dean Heller (NV), Jeff Flake (AZ), John McCain (AZ), and Pat Toomey (PA). Flake has said he won’t support the bill because it protects transgender workers.

Reps Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) are leading the campaign to pass ENDA through the Republican-controlled House. Even if the GOP members of the House were inclined to support ENDA, they won’t have any time this year because they will be gone most of the time. The House quit today until November 12 and may cancel some of the 18 days left in the session. Nice work if you can get it. The deadline for final budget recommendations from the joint House/Senate Committee is December 15, and the existing budget expires on January 15. Not many working days before then.

ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 except the 109th when the GOP controlled Congress and the presidency. Similar legislation has been introduced without passage since 1974. The bill hasn’t had a vote on the House or Senate floor since November 2007, when it passed the House 235-184.

Not all gays and lesbians agree that marriage won’t give them and their families greater protection. In at least 20 states, lawsuits are addressing the constitutionality of state amendments or statutes banning marriage equality: Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Other states are taking further action:

 North Carolina: Buncombe County register of deeds Drew Reisinger has announced that he will accept marriage license applications from same-sex couples in spite of a 2012 state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Oklahoma: Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel are the first same-sex couple to marry in the state despite its ban against same-sex marriage.  The Cheyenne Arapaho recognizes the couple as wed although the state does not.

Oregon: A campaign is well on its way to collect enough signatures for an initiative that would overturn the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality.

Before SCOTUS handed down its landmark decision legalizing federal marriage equality, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick wrote this:

“Nine years ago … same-sex marriages started happening in Massachusetts, and the time since then has proved wonderfully unremarkable. The sky has not fallen. The earth has not opened to swallow us up. Thousands of good people, contributing members of our society, have made free decisions about whom to marry. Most have been joyful and lasting. Some have failed. Ho-hum.”

The 2003 court decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health included the following statement from then-Chief Justice Margaret Marshall:

“Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

Not everyone may want marriage, but for those same-sex couples who do, the United States is gradually opening up. Marriage equality is inevitable; government would save lots of taxpayer money if they just changed the laws.

My opinion? Marriage equality is like health care: everyone should have the right to have it. And people who don’t get married because they say they’ll never need it may change their minds when they run into legal problems.

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